The Troubles and Beyond, Ulster Museum (Matsosane Molibeli, ITP 2017, Lesotho)

Written by Matsosane Molibeli, Director, Department of Culture, Lesotho (ITP 2017)

As an ITP 2017 participant, it has been more than a year since we finished the summer programme, and I am happy to be back with other ITP colleagues for the Museums Association Conference 2018 to be held at Belfast, Northern Ireland. We arrived on Sunday, and like in the old days we immediately found our way in town looking for a shopping complex with Primark – what a nice experience!


Ulster Museum, Belfast

Attending this  conference with me are Heba Khairy (ITP 2017, Egypt), Eileen Musundi (ITP 2008, Kenya), and Meltem Yasdag (ITP 2011, Turkey). We are enjoying our stay here in Belfast in the good hands of our lovely mentors from the ITP team, Claire and Jessica, and we have also been introduced to Louise Smyth, the ITP UK partner representative for National Museums Northern Ireland.

Our Monday programme was about visiting Ulster Museum‘s new permanent display gallery The Troubles and Beyond. Reading the ITP coursebook in preparation for going there, I was prepared to see an exhibition curated about the memories of the ordinary Belfast community on the Troubles that took place. When touring the exhibition, what I experienced went beyond my expectations as the timeline focused on the Troubles in relation to what was happening around the world at the time: this was more educative than I imagined.

After touring the gallery for an hour we had different feelings about the exhibition, but mostly it was an emotional and sad feeling that we experienced. I had many things I wanted to ask the gallery’s curator, Karen Logan, who we had an appointment to meet after lunch. Lucky enough, to calm down our emotions, we had some biscuits that Louise’s mother had prepared! The tea with biscuits and a delicious lunch did the trick.

The afternoon programme continued where we were booked onto an NI Black Taxi Political Tour. This was an educative and informative tour. It really complemented what we had seen earlier in the Troubles and Beyond gallery and also answered some of the questions I had.

Seeing and hearing all about the Troubles in Belfast from our local guide, seeing the graffiti on the Peace Wall and Belfast murals depicting the life and views of residents, and also seeing murals referencing world events that connect in some way with the Troubles, more questions and answers popped up my mind. Especially seeing the Wall still standing and being told the history behind it and its future made me realise that the curator of The Troubles and Beyond has a very challenging and sensitive task working with these memories. To all people that would like to visit the Ulster Museum and especially to see The Troubles and Beyond gallery, I recommend a Troubles Taxi Tour to complement the experience in this way.

After the tour we went back to the Ulster Museum where we met Karen Logan, Project Curator of the Troubles at Ulster Museum. We had a discussion with her where we talked more about the challenges of curating the Troubles, which continue to have an effect on people’s lives here, and what she sees as the successes of the exhibition. During the visit we all had in our minds events that have taken place in our respective countries and how we would handle the situation of curating those memories.


With Karen Logan at the Ulster Museum

I was thinking about why there is little use of oral history in this gallery, taking into account exhibitions of events such as Apartheid in South Africa, especially the District Six Museum in Cape Town that I am familiar with. Claire said during the conversation that she saw a very emotional TV documentary where Northern Irish women talked directly to the camera about their experiences of the Troubles, so we asked Karen about using this kind of oral history. Karen said that in this context people might find this kind of direct communication to be challenging or confrontational. So in the gallery they created a wall of texts that people have written about their experiences, where you can turn the panels and see a photo of the person, who is usually looking slightly away from the camera.  We talked about how writing can also help us to process our thoughts.


Eileen reads the written testimonies

Karen also told us that the hard and wonderful work we see in the gallery is a collaboration with community groups and external organisations, such as Wave Trauma Centre. This also confirmed the notion that in order to have a successful exhibition or storytelling initiative one has to achieve a satisfactory equilibrium in this regard, working with other colleagues and community members.

The question still remains for me though: if projects like The Troubles and Beyond are helping people to come to terms with memories and move on with life, what then should happen with the walls that are still standing as evidence of the Troubles?