Moving Objects: Heritage in/and Exile

The Refugee Hosts project is delighted to announce a new collaboration between our research team and other leading academics at UCL working on displacement.

This collaborative project, funded by the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies Small Grants Scheme, the UCL Grand Challenges Programme and UCL Department of Geography, will result in a co-curated exhibition, ‘Moving Objects: Heritage in/and Exile’, to be held at UCL in early 2019. In creating this collaborative exhibition, this project will work across disciplines and bring together academics, forced migrants, museum collectors and practitioners to consider and collectively ‘label’ artefacts, objects and collections of oral history, music and poetry that have variously been ‘exiled’ and/or represent different facets of displacement.

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A workshop participant looks at archive images of Hamra, Beirut (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

In particular, through the convening of three workshops, which will be attended by UCL students, London-based refugees, project partners from UCL Culture and the Helen Bamber Foundation, and leading academics, this project will explore: how collections can be formed and ‘reformed’ in relation to conflict and displacement; how displaced people themselves relate to and reinterpret artefacts ‘housed’ and ‘labelled’ by UCL Museums (including the Petrie Collection of Palestinian artefacts housed at UCL); how refugees and asylum-seekers in London and in the Middle East interpret and conceptualise diverse artefacts, both ‘new’ and ‘old, and; how these conceptualisations relate to the curation of such objects by colleagues working in and about museums and cultural heritage. These workshops, which will take place in the summer, will provide a space to focus on creative projects to imaginatively construct one’s own cabinet of curiosities, featuring objects that participants identify/create as ‘empowering’ in contexts of displacement.

This emphasis on ‘empowerment’ and heritage – or on the relationship between heritage and wellbeing – is a key driving force behind this project, dovetailing in particular with the research of the project leads, Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (Geography) and Prof Helen Chatterjee (Biology). In particular, through the Refugee Hosts project, Elena and colleagues are investigating the diverse role(s) memory, history and heritage play in ‘making place’ and shaping encounters between refugees and hosts. Likewise, Helen is exploring in her research the value of cultural encounters to health, wellbeing and education in conflict and displacement settings. Both Helen and Elena will bring their project findings into conversation with the curation of this exhibition, creating opportunities for the production of new knowledge with and about displaced peoples, and models for ‘heritage futures’.

In this context, although the exhibition is itself the focus of this project, the most important elements of ‘Moving Objects’ are precisely the processes and journeys that project participants and their selected objects will navigate through all stages of co-curation. By focusing on a process of collaborative engagement with archives, collections, artefacts and people affected by displacement, this project will produce a model of heritage as wellbeing, with important implications for UCL-based research, heritage studies and conflict-affected communities.

Featured Image: Workshop participants consider wellbeing and heritage through art and creativity (c) H. Chatterjee 

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