Celebrating Cultural Diversity At The Workhouse Museum

By Graham Spicer | 13 September 2005
Shows a photo of a figurine of a skeleton brightly dressed in yellow red blue and purple women's clothes

La Catrina figure, by Carlos Soteno, Mexico, 2004. Photo courtesy NIMC.

A new exhibition has opened in Derry, Northern Ireland, to celebrate and highlight the region’s cultural diversity.

Our People, Our Times will run until October 17 2005 at the Workhouse Museum, and recounts the history of migration to Northern Ireland and more recent arrivals of people from Europe and beyond.

The Mayor of Derry, Councillor Lynn Fleming, who officially opened the exhibition, said: “So many people define Northern Ireland as Catholic or Protestant – that’s simply not true. We have so many rich and diverse cultures which impact on and influence our lives and attitudes.

Shows a photo of a wooden figurine of an African man dressed in a black suit and black fez-like hat

Fante figure, early 20th century, from the Cape Coast region of southern Ghana. Photo courtesy NIMC.

“It’s important to acknowledge the role which these cultures have had in our economic and civic development,” she added. “They are part of Northern Ireland’s future and should be acknowledged as part of the rich fabric of our society.”

The exhibition is touring museums in Northern Ireland until spring 2007 and is the result of these museums working with people from minority ethnic communities. Objects from Africa, Central America, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East were selected and placed in the context of how people have travelled to and from Ireland over the last 10,000 years.

Among the items on display are a key from the Belfast synagogue, a Sri Lankan festival plaque, work by craftsmen from the Traveller community and figurines from Ghana and Mexico.

Shows a photo of a white fabric bag or pouch brightly decorated with braids and buttons

A Traveller woman's 'beady pocket' - part purse, part handbag, part sewing kit. Courtesy Linen Hall Library.

The museum is housed in Derry’s former workhouse, which opened in 1840 and closed in 1948. It was then used as a hospital until 1991 and subsequently saved from demolition by local historians who transformed the building into the museum and Waterside branch library.

“Museums are uniquely placed to help everyone learn about the history and cultures of our people, whether they were born here or have just recently arrived," said Professor Tom Fraser, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC). "Through the collections of artefacts that they hold in trust for everybody, museums can show the different and shared customs of people that live here.”

Members of the public who have artefacts that reflect Northern Ireland’s diversity are encouraged to contact Derry City Council, joint organisers with NIMC, who are keen to add to the exhibition.

“This exhibition provides an opportunity for people to think about the benefits of living in our diverse community,” added Professor Fraser.

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