Canadian Museum for Human Rights opens to public in Winnipeg - Halong Junk Cruises

Canadian Museum for Human Rights opens to public in Winnipeg

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
Photograph: PR

A red sequin and satin prom dress stands in the exhibition case. It belongs to Maréshia Rucker, a black senior student at Wilcox High School, Georgia. The school’s proms had always been segregated, one for blacks, and one for whites, arranged by students’ families, and supported by teachers. But when it came to their turn, Maréshia and her friends decided to organise the school’s first racially integrated prom. They battled against fierce local opposition, and received support and donations from all over the world. But this is not an episode from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s. It happened in Georgia, USA, in 2013.

Maréshia’s shocking story captures the diversity of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which opened officially on Saturday 20 September and opens to the public on 27 September. It’s the world’s first museum dedicated to exploring human rights in the round. While others have focused on specific narratives, this museum, as Maureen Fitzhenry, media relations manager, points out, “explores what human rights are, and connects visitors with the notion of human rights using multiple examples.” These range from genocide and torture, to the everyday such as bullying in schools. Maréshia’s dress stands in a gallery entitled “Inspiring Change,” which celebrates how groups of individuals, working together, can make a difference.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Visitors at the Protecting Rights in Canada gallery
Photograph: PR

The choices the museum has made remain controversial – some indigenous and ethnic minority groups are angry that their communities’ historic abuses have not been fairly represented within the museum’s exhibitions. It is not surprising in Canada, a nation grappling with its own colonial past and the place of its indigenous communities.

The project has itself been the subject of heated debate. Questions were raised early on when it was decided to locate Canada’s first new national museum in almost 50 years not in the national capital, Ottawa, but in Winnipeg, Manitoba, widely considered a city to pass through rather than linger. That choice was dictated by the museum’s founder, Israel Asper, Winnipeg media mogul and one-time leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party. Asper initiated the project in 2000 but died in 2003, before its realisation. This week, criticism shifted to the fact that some galleries aren’t ready, forcing the museum to offer reduced rate guided tours, avoiding the unfinished galleries, for the first few weeks of its opening. The aim now is that all galleries will be open from 11 November.

One thing that is not in doubt is the success of the building itself. American architect Antoine Predock’s signature statement in steel and glass rises out of the mid-western plains like a speared truffle, though his vision is of a mountain wrapped in a cloud of glass. Clouds certainly skid across the sky high above the dome that soars over the heart of the museum, where visitors are invited to reflect on their experience in a Garden of Contemplation planted with basalt rocks and pools.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The Canadian Journeys gallery.
Photograph: PR

That experience consists of 10 permanent galleries, the largest of which, “Canadian Journeys,” examines the country’s sometimes contradictory human rights history. Canada has been both a refuge, the terminus of the Underground Railroad for escaped American black slaves, and a prison, a place where innocent immigrants were interred during two world wars. Other galleries explore international narratives such as the Nazi Holocaust and the post-war recognition of rights for all as expressed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by Canadian lawyer John Peters Humphrey. One of the most effective galleries is “Actions Count,” a youth-oriented space that uses examples such as the harassment of LGBTTQ students, and the wearing of the hijab to question our commitment to tolerance. An eleventh gallery, “Expressions”, will house temporary exhibitions. Art, music, photography, video and artefacts, as well as over 150 oral testimonies and an extensive range of interactive exhibits, provide a challenging, sometimes disturbing and often inspiring insight into the state of human rights past and present.

Award-winning master exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum has described the project as part of a movement of “museums of conscience,” a movement that includes the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and the Terezin Memorial in the Czech Republic. At a time when atrocities in Syria and Iraq prick our own communal conscience, Winnipeg’s new museum is an international space where we are invited to re-examine our commitment to humanity., +1 877 877 6037. Visitor entry will be through guided tours only at a reduced rate of $ 10 per adult and $ 5 per child (7-17) until 9 November 2014. From 11 November tickets will be $ 15 per adult and $ 8 per child. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, closed Mondays.

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