The Migration Museum, recently moved to The Workshop in Vauxhall, is ‘telling stories of movement to and from Britain in fresh and engaging ways’.
I visited Call Me By My Name: Stories from Calais when it was temporarily on display in Shoreditch (which I wrote a review of here). As the Call Me By My Name exhibition was such a brilliantly designed and interpreted exhibition (especially the piece ‘Home for Winter’ by Joe Friday, Lee Eyre and Mark Arrigo – an installation of a typical shelter) I had high expectations for the Migration Museum’s current exhibition – luckily Room To Breathe didn’t disappoint.
Like Call Me By My Name: Stories from Calais, Room To Breathe is an immersive experience. The tactile instillations were engaging and absorbing. The space is set into spaces designed as rooms: a kitchen, barbershop, school, and bedroom, for example. The visitor is encouraged to ‘open drawers, look through cupboards, settle into an armchair’. In each space, the objects tell an journey through a migrant’s experience. The exhibition starts in the ‘Home Office’, with boxes upon boxes of documentation, likely highlighting the depersonalisation migrants receive as they are treated as a stream of paperwork upon arrival.
The ‘barbershop’ space was the most creatively designed and engaging curation for me – the ‘mirrors’ in front of two barbershop chairs becomes a video of a migrant describing their background and experience to a barber during a hair cut. Behind these chairs, written personal narratives describe the cultural and social significance of hair for women of colour. Very Solange Knowles – Don’t Touch My Hair.
Similarly to Call Me By My Name, these testimonies led the exhibition. This style of curation is (in my opinion) the only way to ethically and accurately depict a migrant experience in a gallery setting. A curator attempting to tell the migrants story for them simply would not work. The experience can only be understood through living it.
Room To Breathe is on from 1 November 2018 – summer 2019. At the Migration Museum @ The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, SE1 7AG. Nearest station: Vauxhall, Westminsteror Lambeth North. Open Thu 12pm-8pm, Fri-Sun 12pm-6pm. Free admission. For more information, visit the Migration Museum website.