A mural created by the artist Magda Ćwik at the Electric Picnic music festival last year calling for the repeal of the 8th Amendment. CC http://canvas.pantone.com/gallery/59238181/Amnesty-International-Ireland-Repeal-the-8th-Mural

Collecting drive gets underway after Irish abortion referendum

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 30.05.2018
Museums in Ireland and UK put call out for campaign materials
Museums and archives in Ireland and the UK are moving quickly to collect artefacts, political literature and other material from both sides of last week’s historic Eighth Amendment referendum, which saw 66.4% of voters choose to overturn Ireland’s strict abortion ban.

A number of curators from the National Museum of Ireland’s (NMI) art and industry division have been seeking material culture from both sides, including flags, banners and posters. Brenda Malone, the museum’s curator of military history – whose remit also covers other types of conflict – said they had deliberately held off until after the referendum in order to wait for “material culture to become historic”.

“I had to wait until Saturday morning, then I got out there and started collecting,” said Malone. “The reaction has been amazing. On Sunday night Twitter kind of exploded – everyone is expressing a need to record this moment, it’s so momentous.” Curators and archivists have been coordinating their efforts under the hashtags #Archivingthe8th and #Collectingthe8th.

Malone said this kind of rapid response collecting was a relatively “new direction” for staff, but that it had been strongly supported by the museum’s new director, Lynn Scarff, who started in the role last week and is the museum’s first female head.

Malone said she’d like to get hold of artistic and DIY material, as well as historic banners from older people with long-term involvement in the pro-choice movement. “I’d be very interested in a Love Both [anti-repeal] banner too,” she added. In the longer term Malone hopes the objects collected will be used in the museum’s planned permanent gallery, History of Ireland, which will document the republic’s social history up to the present day.

Some institutions are focusing on gathering digital content due to its ephemeral nature. The National Library of Ireland is assembling a web archive of websites, social media content and Youtube clips, in addition to paper-based material.

The library’s director Sarah Collins tweeted: “We move fast to capture websites and social media because they vanish so quickly (we expect a lot of websites to be gone next week).”

Epic: The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin is planning to conduct a “virtual collecting day” to gather material related to the #hometovote movement, which saw thousands of members of the Irish diaspora travel home from as far afield as Japan and Australia to vote in the referendum, often with the help of crowdfunding from fellow voters.

“The end goal is a temporary exhibition of the stories collected, which may be either virtual or physical,” the museum’s senior curator Nathan Mannion told Museums Journal. “We’re also hoping to undertake a similar initiative to reflect those who returned home to vote during the marriage equality referendum in 2015, which is already featured in our exhibition.”

Dublin City Library is creating a digital archive of the hundreds of memorial cards and mementos left at a mural in the city dedicated to Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis in 2012 after being denied a medically-essential termination in a tragedy that is widely seen as a turning point in the campaign for reproductive rights.

The Irish Museums Association endorsed a rapid response approach to collecting, tweeting: “It’s incredibly important that museums reflect and actively collect around current issues… ‘encouragement’ at government level is necessary, as is increased awareness of the expanding role of museums.”

In the UK, Glasgow Women’s Library is seeking materials such as badges, t-shirts and placards from the repeal side of the campaign, tweeting: “Please consider donating to us so that we can record and preserve this important moment in history.”

A website dedicated to "archiving and collecting the eighth" has been set up to help museums and archives consolidate their efforts, share resources and avoid duplication.

Prior to the vote, some cultural organisations in the republic ran into difficulty in responding to the campaign. Publicly-funded institutions were warned earlier this month by the Arts Council of Ireland to remain impartial or risk losing their funding.

And in April, the Project Arts Centre in Dublin was told by the Charities Regulator to paint over a pro-repeal mural by the graffiti artist Maser because it represented "political activity". The centre's artistic director Cian O'Brien painted over the work himself in what he described as an act of "defiant compliance". The centre has not yet confirmed whether the artwork will be restored now that the referendum is over.

Comments

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04.06.2018, 10:26
We need a like button here. I love rapid response collecting..it makes museums so much more 'in the moment' rather than the preconceived concept of that we are of the past. It's breaking shackles and being able to tell stories not just through historical facts or research ..but that yes, museum witnessed the event, was part of it and lives to tell the story first hand and with no excuses not to tell all sides of the story.