The conversation

Louise Skidmore; Anthony Gale, Issue 119/06, 01.06.2019
What are the challenges curating an exhibition on a live conflict?
Dear Anthony: 

Curating an exhibition on an ongoing conflict presents some unique challenges to curators. At Imperial War Museums (IWM), I lead the team that collects and produces public programming around contemporary/post-2001 conflicts. As a team, we have had to develop innovative and dynamic ways of learning about the conflicts. 

The material and visual culture that we, as curators, use to understand and communicate stories of conflict have not yet been collected. The reference books have not been written. So we go beyond the traditional museum walls and work with journalists, academics, non-governmental organisations and government departments to gather first-hand information about the conflicts. 

Best wishes, Louise

Dear Louise: 

Research and collaboration play a critical role in any humanitarian response. From governments and the international system, through to the people we serve, delivering aid isn’t possible without the support of our donors or partnership with communities. Equally important is research. From governments and the international system, through to the people we serve, delivering aid isn't possible without the support of our donors or partnerships with communities. 

From regional politics to how geography might have an impact on our delivery, we examine a multitude of variables, to ensure our work will be as effective and efficient as possible. In a dynamic context such as Yemen, this research never stops. We are constantly refining and reconfiguring our response, to ensure we can continue to reach those in need.

Best wishes, Anthony 

Dear Anthony:

The dynamic nature of contemporary conflicts is what makes collecting around these events so challenging and rewarding. Where the security situation allows, such as Afghanistan in 2012-14, we are able to visit to conduct interviews and collect material. With Yemen, a collecting visit has not been possible. That is why we are so lucky that groups such as Mercy Corp, which is active on the ground in Yemen, are able to support us to collect objects and stories that we can use to explore the humanitarian crisis.

Best wishes, Louise

Dear Louise:

Humanitarian assistance will only ever treat the symptoms of this crisis – it cannot provide the cure. The only hope for the people of Yemen is that a political solution can be found, and that is why it is so important that a prestigious institution such as IWM is engaging on this issue. I hope that the objects you have curated will reach beyond the headlines and allow people to connect to this crisis – one that has resulted in more than eight million people being pushed to the brink of starvation.
 
Best wishes, Anthony

Dear Anthony:

IWM aims to tell the causes, courses and consequences of conflict. The UN has declared Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. We know our visitors want to understand why this conflict is happening and what impact it is having on the people of Yemen. Our goal at IWM is to present a balanced exploration of the crisis, which will empower visitors to understand and further engage with this important topic. Yemen is a complex situation – and Britain plays a complex role in it. 

Best wishes, Louise

Dear Louise: 

Communicating the complexity of this crisis is crucial to finding a solution. Yemen is a country that is crippled by a failing economy and suffocating under an unwinnable war. It isn’t that there isn’t food in Yemen; it’s that people simply cannot afford to eat. Until we find a political solution in Yemen, I fear the situation will continue to deteriorate. Hopefully, this partnership will shine a spotlight on a humanitarian catastrophe that has become a stain on our shared humanity.

Best wishes, Anthony

There will be a session at the Museums Association Conference, 3-5 October, Brighton, about IWM’s exploration of the conflicts in Syria and Yemen

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