The first Object Journeys project at the British Museum has been a partnership with a core group of ten London-based Somali adults. Working with the Museum from November 2015 the group meet frequently to explore and research the Museums Somali collection of objects and to work with the Museum to produce a new display case and an ongoing programme of events.
The group is very interested in Somali heritage and was keen to work with the Museum to enable greater access to its historic Somali collection. They also saw this project as an opportunity to promote and showcase aspects of Somali culture that might otherwise be unfamiliar to the public. Through new and existing partnerships with Somali community organisations the project has also been working in a lighter-touch way with wider members of the London Somali community.
One of the project partners Huda Haid had this to say about her involvement in the project:
“Somali culture and tradition are areas most people don’t know very much about. To some, it may even be unheard of. Taking part in the project was an opportunity to promote and showcase these very aspects of Somalia that the public are otherwise unfamiliar with, by using the British Museum’s collection of Somali objects. In my view, there is no better way to achieve this than through this medium as each individual object will tell a unique story and represent different aspects of Somali life, culture, and tradition. I also admired the fact that the Museum sought to create a display of Somali objects by involving young Somalis like myself to have a say and have a first-hand interaction with the Museum and its collection.
With this in mind, I hope that the project creates a platform for Somali communities or any community for that matter to connect and interact with the Museum in a way it hasn’t done before. Moreover, I hope that the project creates a display that’s unique and is different from displays the Museum has done before. My upmost ambition is to shed light on Somalia’s vibrant and fascinating culture”.
Throughout the project, the core group worked collaboratively with British Museum staff to investigate and explore the Somali object collection and photography archives. In addition to conducting research about the objects and the contexts in which they were collected the group also worked with various teams within the Museum to develop and design a new display case. Installed in October 2016 the display, Objects of Survival: the beauty of Somali craftwork , can now be seen in Room 24 of the British Museum.
Working wider than the project group:
Important to the project too was working with wider members of the London Somali community. The group used these sessions as places to gather further insight about the objects but also as opportunities to speak with their own community about the value of researching the Museums historic collection and ways in which greater access and information about the collection might be facilitated.
Taking the project out of the display case:
It was very important for the Somali Object Journeys group that encounters with Somali culture at the British Museum shouldn’t be confined to engaging with objects within the new display case. Working with the public engagement teams at the Museum a diverse programme of events was planned which saw music and poetry performances by Somali artists brought into the galleries, talks conducted by the project partners themselves and objects handling sessions conducted where members of the public could get up close and personal with authentic Somali objects. Families too were encouraged to take part in Somali themed craft workshops and storytelling sessions.