Reflecting on the 2024 ICOM UK Conference: report from Chantal Umuhoza

This week we are reflecting on one of our first 2024 Legacy Projects, visiting the 2024 ICOM UK conference.

From 8 to 14 April the ITP team travelled to Belfast in Northern Ireland to take part in the conference, with this year’s theme being Common Ground: the role of museums in divided communities.

We were delighted to be joined by Namrata Sarmah, Freelance Museum Consultant and Researcher (India, ITP 2018); Nourah Sammar, MA Student, Academy of Korean Studies (Palestine, ITP 2009); Chantal Umuhoza, Curator, Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy (Rwanda, ITP 2018).

Today’s report is written by Chantal Umuhoza, Curator, Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy (Rwanda, ITP 2018).

Ending the year and starting a new one with good news is a blessing that everyone would wish for. For me, it was the excellent opportunity for me to go back to Northern Ireland after almost 6 years, to attend the ICOM UK 2024 Conference and of course the ITP was there, as always, to support me, providing everything that was needed for me to take part in the programme. At that time, I didn’t know which other two ITP fellows would also be attending, but I was happy because the ITP has helped me to network with other ITP fellows and museum and cultural heritage professionals. Then I heard that my Belfast sister Namrata will be joining us too. What a joy! I was so excited and I couldn’t wait for the D-day as we had a wonderful time together with Mariana back in 2018 during our placement at National Museums Northern Ireland.  

I landed in Belfast in the evening of Monday 8th April 2024. I was somehow tired, you can imagine how you feel after almost 18 hours on a plane, but I must say that the ITP team knew how to keep me relaxed. We were treated with a special dinner at the Crown Liquor Saloon. What a nice place! My camera is not good though, so I didn’t take pictures inside, and it was so full! You wouldn’t think it’s a weekday! So, enjoying my dinner looking at how beautiful the place was designed and how cozy it was, I forgot that I was tired.

Photograph of the exterior of the Crown Liquor Saloon - an ornate cream and gold building.

The following morning, we toured the Belfast murals in a black cab where our driver guide explained the origins and symbolism of the murals. Of course, it was not the first time to hear the story and I am sure it’s not your first time too; maybe you heard it from ITP blogs, and I can assure you our guide did an incredible job telling the tragic story in an enjoyable and interactive way. I learned about the Mona Lisa of Belfast. It’s funny right? The driver called it the Mona Lisa because wherever you go the gunner is pointing at you.  I also painted my message on the peace wall.

Of course I can’t provide details of how much I enjoyed each and every art space, museum, cultural or heritage site we visited, but I can tell you how happy I was going back to the Ulster Folk Museum. Although it was quiet due to the Easter break, the place brought so many good memories and I was so happy to spend the day with amazing people – Nourah, George, Amelia and Namrata. We also enjoyed the new gallery at the Transport Museum.

Did I tell you that I was among the speakers at the ICOM UK 2024 Conference! I think no. Maybe it’s because of how nervous I was, thinking of the day I will be in front of lots of people presenting the work of Museums in Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. So, I was on the panel talking about “Old wounds: After conflict”.  We all know that there is a lot of conflict around the world and conflicts leave behind a difficult and painful legacy. So, I shared how Rwanda went through a long journey of recovery, healing and reconciliation and how it is now a living proof of how a country can come out of a tragedy and come out better and stronger.

 It was a great privilege for me to be invited to speak at this important conference. So, I would like to thank Hannah Crowdy for thinking about me and inviting me to come.

I was a wonderful experience for me learning from other museum and cultural professionals in the UK and Bosnia, of how they are representing everyone’s voices and working with the communities they serve, shaping a better future of the museums.

So, I would like to express my gratitude to the ITP team, especially Claire Messenger, for their invaluable support. My special thanks go to the sponsors of the International Training Programme. The ITP has shaped my career in so many ways, so ‘thank you’ is not enough for their generosity. Finally, I would like to thank my ITP fellows and friends Nourah, Namrata and Yohana for the time we spent together, our shopping and dinner days.

Best, Chantal.