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EXHIBITION REVIEW: Movement @ Discovery Museum, Newcastle

January 18, 2017 11:00 am

Showing until 31st January 

For more information, click here. 

Review by Nasim Asl


Movement picNow, more than ever, the work done by BAM! Sistahood! is massively important. An off-shoot of community project, The Angelou Centre, the Sistahood project brings together the experiences of many of the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women that are involved in the community centre in some way. Since its inception, the project has developed numerous methods for engaging communities and representing the experience of BME heritage within the North East. Their latest undertaking is the Movement Exhibition at the Discovery Museum in the centre of the city.


The exhibition lies within the permanent Destination Tyneside fixture, which takes a broader look at all kinds of migration to the North East. Movement’s placement here makes perfect sense – it was just a shame that the staff working while I visited were not entirely sure where it was. Only after wandering through the various floors of the museum did I eventually find it, and I can’t help but feel it’s location may not have allowed enough people to view the exhibition, tucked away as it was at the back of the museum.


Movement consists of a number of items donated by women involved in the project. All of these items have cultural and personal significance for the BME women that donated it. Objects have come from places as varied as Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia and are as varied as earrings, clothes and jewelry. Accompanying the items are small photographs of the women who donated them, so that visitors get a visual and more personal connection to the women behind the objects.


It’s an impressive collection. The two year long project has seen a variety of media come together, and some of the creative ventures that the participants have undertaken – such as the photographs – are also on display. Most striking is possibly the tapestry that documents the experiences of refugees. Within the large piece are images symbolic of hope and peace, such as birds and houses, are small woven words: love, passion, health and family, among others.


It would have been great to have more idea of the people in the portraits that litter the exhibition. In the information booklets, we get a real sense of the history and traditions this incredible collection of objects represents, but on a grand scale rather than a focus on the individual. It’s humbling to think of objects travelling with people from all corners of the globe and ending up in the same area of The Discovery Museum, but only with a few of the objects do we get a sense of the personal history of its owner. There are a few nice stories, such as a pestle and mortar, brought back by Madonna Simbo when she took her daughters to Sierra Leone for the first time, or Barbara Kaur’s Indian Kara bracelet. Some of the object’s descriptions tell the personal tale of how the object came into the owner’s possession, but what I feel is lacking in an exhibition designed to celebrate the cultural heritage of women in the North East is the actual experiences of these women living in the North East. We get a glimpse of these personal moments, but there isn’t an overall impression of lived experience.


As a young woman, a member of the Iranian diaspora, and someone from the North East, I was hoping to find something within the exhibition that I could really relate to, something that would connect me to others within similar communities, but this moment did not come. Had the exhibition reflected more personal experiences of its contributors, I feel that this connecting moment may have arrived.



Aside from this, I am in no doubt that the exhibition is important and necessary for BME communities within the North East. It’s about more than its components – the exhibition represents the desire that exists within the communities of diaspora communities worldwide. The need is not just for a collective narrative, but for one which manages to do more than just document experiences faced by, in this case, BME women from the North East of England. It’s a desire for acknowledgement and recognition that goes way beyond sympathy. It’s a desire for an empathy that can only be achieved through understanding and exposure – something the exhibition undoubtedly achieves.


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