Emotional connections: Federation of International Human Rights in Museums Conference

The Federation of International Human Rights in Museums (FIHRM) Conference was hosted at Te Papa last week – three days of stimulating talks and workshops led by experts from around the world on the theme ‘Access is a human right’.

Katie Kyung, from UN Youth, blogs about her experience at the conference:

Museums as contact zones

Stories and experiences make up the identities of one another, they are the raw materials that should not and cannot be refurbished to produce anything better. Culture is always truthful and that is what makes it beautiful.

The museum is a contact zone. It is a platform through which minorities and indigenous groups are able to share the stories of the past to those in the present. The theme of the FIHRM Conference 2015 focused on ‘Access is a human right.’

International delegates gathered at Te Papa museum to discuss the issues behind minority and indigenous groups’ difficulties in gaining access to the museums, and the balance that must be achieved in sharing cultures through museums, as well as the importance of the groups’ connection with their cultural objects.

Emotional connections

An important idea that was reiterated throughout the conference was the idea of emotional connections. Andrea Milligan and Sarah Rusholme spoke of the ability of emotional connections in stirring up conceptual connections. We were able to witness this even at the conference through the standing ovation after the talk of Fred Chin, narrating his experience as an ex-political prisoner.

Sharing culture

Museums are institutions that give opportunity to minority and indigenous groups to share their culture and educate the present with the past. As a representative of UN Youth, it was a great opportunity to learn of the efforts and methods of various directors and curators of museums in reaching out to minorities and indigenous groups so as to approach them and provide access to share their culture. The conference provided me with motivation to inform students of human rights issues that are involved in the world of museology.

There is so much more to museums than their displays and education to the public. It is a site where opportunities are provided and cultures are shared to assure the hearts of many that their heritage will not be forgotten. They are institutions that are able to exercise discretion in providing opportunities for minority groups.

Engaging youth with human rights issues

Perhaps a way forward for museums may be to engage the youth with such human rights issues. As youths, we are ones that know how to voice, to opinionate and have the courage to begin something for a change. As frequent visitors of museums, the educating of youth in this area of human rights may render the works of directors and curators more effective. As youths, we are eager to participate, to volunteer for the right causes.

Organisations such as the UN Youth and the Youth Council exist to bring about a change for the wider good of the society. Museology and the related human rights issues was an area that I was not aware of, yet I truly immersed myself throughout the entire conference. I wish to open this world to youth so that they become knowledgeable, and provide a bridge for others to allow stories of the past to continue and educate the present.

Katie Kyung, UN Youth WHSMSC Coordinator 2015

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