The Art Fund Prize 2008 Longlist - Breaking The Chains In Bristol

By Narelle Doe | 13 February 2008
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Photo of the interior of a museum with cases and a statue.

Breaking the Chains. All images courtesy The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.

The Art Fund Prize judges have already started their deliberations of the ten longlisted museum for the Art Fund Prize 2008, but who do you think should win the coveted prize?

To help you decide, the 24 Hour Museum begins its alphabetical round-up of the museums on this year's longlist by looking at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.

The £100,000 Art Fund Prize is awarded to the museum or gallery whose project demonstrates the most originality, imagination and excellence and the Empire and Commonwealth’s tilt at this coveted prize tackles the hard-hitting story of the abolition of the slave trade by focussing on human stories.

Using interactive multimedia such as video and sound stations, the £1million Heritage Lottery funded Breaking the Chains exhibition opened in April 2007, created to mark the 200-year anniversary of the 1807 Act that abolished the British transatlantic slave trade.

Anne Lineen, the Exhibition Manager responsible for developing Breaking the Chains told the 24 Hour Museum of her delight that the dedication of everyone involved in the exhibition, including local people, community groups, academic advisors and staff, has been recognised at such a prestigious, national level.

Photo of the interior of a museum with large writing on a wall.

The Final Gallery.

“Our strong point is the presentation of the exhibition,” said Anne, “We are proud of this recognition of the museum’s approach to analysing difficult histories, regardless of any agenda.”

“Slavery is a difficult subject, especially for children, but we have used multimedia like film, music and oral history to make it interactive and approachable. We wanted adults and children to be able to engage with the exhibition together and share the experience.”

Visitors are offered a multi-sensory experience which explores slave trade history and questions why slavery still exists today, using artefacts, film, music, images, video and personal testimonies.

The entire top floor of the Museum has been utilised with six galleries, a film theatre space and video response booth dedicated to telling this tragic human story and the means by which this brutal transportation was brought to an end. Touch screens reveal powerful and emotive films on the themes of racism, identity, wealth, poverty and the Atlantic family.

An introductory gallery explores exactly what slavery is and how it has existed throughout history and still exists today. Visitors are invited to discover what made the transatlantic slave trade so different from all other forms of human bondage.

The following two galleries focus on Africa and the Caribbean, where visitors are immersed in the diversity of Western African culture, discovering how trade with Europe descended into the enslavement of African people. Similarly the Caribbean gallery explores the reality of enslavement in the Americas, and how this was challenged by the courage and endurance of enslaved people.

Photo of the interior of a museum with writing and pictures on a wall.

The Caribbean Gallery.

Abolition of the trade is covered in gallery four, which investigates the phenomenon of popular protest as ordinary people throughout England campaigned for it to end.

The final two galleries investigate through voices and images the struggle against injustice that continued in the Caribbean after emancipation and the campaigns against slavery that continue to this day and some of the inspirational heroes who lead that struggle.

So far the exhibition has had fantastic feedback from visitors and the museum hopes that this will encourage even more people to visit.

But will these hard-hitting and carefully thought out galleries sway the judges? Among the nine other exhibitions and projects on the longlist, Breaking the Chains is competing with the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, which also unveiled its permanent exhibition on the slave trade in 2007.

Following judges’ visits, four museums and galleries will be shortlisted and announced in early April. The winner will be announced on Thursday May 22 at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London during Museum and Galleries Month 2008.

Before then we would like to know what you think. Do you think Breaking the Chains should win the 2008 Art Fund Prize? Vote for this exhibition or any others on the longlist here

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