Museum Day 2017 exposes ‘unspeakable’

National Museum, Onikan, Lagos

National Museum, Onikan, Lagos

Ahead of International Museum Day (IMD) 2017, the increasing local and cross-border conflicts among communities and nations appeared to have received attention of museum managers. The global body, International Council of Museums (ICOM), has announced a theme for the 2017 edition, which would focus on the role of museum-visiting culture in promoting peaceful co-existence among people.

Being celebrated around May 18 every year, chosen themes had always attempted to promote the value of museums in developing the society. For Museum Day 2017, the theme, according to ICOM is ‘Museums and Contested Histories: Saying the Unspeakable in Museums.’ ICOM established International Museum Day in 1977 to increase public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society.

This year, the theme focuses on the role of museums in such area as “working to benefit society, become hubs for promoting peaceful relationships between people,” ICOM states on its website. “It also highlights how the acceptance of a contested history is the first step in envisioning a shared future under the banner of reconciliation.”

Specifically, the world body explains the phrase ‘unspeakable in museums’, stating that the theme looks at how to understand the incomprehensible aspects of the contested histories inherent to the human race. The theme, ICOM adds, “also encourages museums to play an active role in peacefully addressing traumatic histories through mediation and multiple points of view.”

Domesticating the focus of the IMD 2017 theme, ICOM urges museums and other cultural agencies, institutions around the world to join in the celebration, with the hope that it “will focus on the link allowing for a vision of the future above and beyond taboo subjects and towards a better understanding of one another.”

Assessing the impact of the celebration on global society, ICOM discloses that in 2016, IMD “garnered record-breaking participation with more than 35,000 museums hosting events in some 145 countries.” The theme was “Museums and Cultural Landscapes. It was reported afthen that for an hour, a night or an entire week, participants marked a unifying, universal occasion.

The event also led to debates during the ICOM General Conference, held in Milan, Italy, in July 2016. “This theme implies that museums have a certain responsibility towards the landscapes where they are located, to which they are able to bring their own specific knowledge and skills,” ICOM had stated then. “The main mission of museums is to oversee the safekeeping and protection of the heritage that lies both within and beyond their walls.”

At the Siena Charter – which generated IMD – the cultural landscape is proposed as “the country where we live, which surrounds us with the images and symbols that identify and characterise it.”

According to this vision, the landscape is considered as the context – geographic, historical, economic, social and cultural – in which museums exist and operate.

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