International Women’s Day: Giving young women a voice in heritage
Empowering young people to have a voice in the heritage sector and for it to be heard is something we believe is worth fighting for. Reimagine, Remake, Replay is a project that does just that, engaging young people aged 16-24 with museums across Northern Ireland through creative and digital approaches. The project is part of our Kick the Dust programme, a £10million investment to make heritage relevant to the lives of young people.
I have always loved spending time in museums, and the Ulster Museum in particular. In school, my friends and I would spend our lunchtimes wandering the exhibits almost every day of the winter term. However, it was never an industry I saw a natural path to working in. It was just something people were shocked to find out I enjoyed.
I was introduced to the Reimagine, Remake, Replay project through an ad on my Facebook newsfeed. The ad was promoting the first Digital Makers Club, which I applied for but only found the notification offering me a place months afterwards, so just missed out. But my interest had already been sparked, so I kept an eye on their social media and soon had my application to the Graphics and Illustrations course accepted (the message came by email this time). I don’t think I have missed a course, workshop or general meet-up since!
“Being among women who have made a career for themselves that they are utterly passionate about is energising, inspiring and empowering. That kind of environment makes you believe you can do anything you want to.”
The course was the perfect starting point for me. I love art but I’d never used digital tools such as Photoshop, so to find out that we would be given an exhibition space to display our work at the end of the course was daunting to say the least. However, it gave us all a goal to work towards: something to bond over and commit to. Seeing the Digital Voices exhibition come together, and witnessing strangers stopping to consider and discuss our pieces amongst themselves, is a moment and a feeling I will never forget.
Throughout my time with Reimagine, Remake, Replay I have had the pleasure of working with numerous female curators, project leaders and artists. Being among women who have made a career for themselves that they are utterly passionate about is energising, inspiring and empowering. That kind of environment makes you believe you can do anything you want to as well.
It’s not the easiest sector to break into, which may be off-putting to some people. My advice would be don’t be shy in making noise about whatever you are passionate about - you can’t expect anyone to get excited about something you aren’t talking about.
When I started off as a participant a couple of years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the women's heritage on display at the Ulster Museum.
I was particularly in awe of an exhibition called Fashion and Feminism. I had never thought about fashion as heritage before and learned about the museum's trailblazing collectors of fashion as art. The exhibition explored the importance of fashion in the feminist movement and how each has shaped the other.
“I was able to shape and enhance engagement for other potential audiences of young people.”
The project enables participants to interact with collections by creating responses to them. I was intrigued by a Dior T-shirt that read 'We Should all be Feminists' displayed alongside the book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that inspired it. I'm a big fan of the author, so I took a picture of the book and was able to image trace it, cut the design in vinyl and print it on a T-shirt.
In interviews, Adichie stresses that feminism needs to be mainstream and accessible to all. By creating my own take on the T-shirt, I am participating in this conversation, entering the dialogue opened up by the writer and this exhibition. Like Adichie's vision for mainstream feminism, our project amplifies the voices of young women on their heritage and issues they care about. It certainly gave me a space in the museum and made me feel as if my voice was being heard on issues that were important and relevant to me and others I know.
As part of the Graphics and Illustrations programme, participants created and exhibited protest art at the museum. I created a poster to advocate for abortion rights in Northern Ireland, using this as an opportunity to highlight local feminist issues. The museum directors evidently appreciated what this programme is achieving as they made the decision to extend the exhibition from one week to two months. This really changed my mindset about the impact that we, as both individuals and a collective group, can have on decision making in museums. I was able to shape and enhance engagement for other potential audiences of young people.
The experience I got from the project has enabled me to get a role working on it: I'm the new Project Assistant and Youth Ambassador. I'll be assisting others to respond to and be empowered by their heritage. Keep an eye on our social media to see what we do next!
Facebook: Reimagine Remake Replay
Find out more
Read Niamh's earlier blog about technology and young people in museums.