Six Of The Best: People's Museums

As a new exhibition opens about the 69-day ordeal of those trapped Chilean miners, Simone Kane rounds up some of the top folk museums from around the world

Simone Kane
Sunday 16 October 2011 00:00 BST

1. The Great Rescue Gallery, Chile

One of the most astonishing rescues of recent times – of the 33 miners trapped for more than two months in the San Jose mine – is commemorated in this new gallery opened to mark the first anniversary of the rescue.

The dedicated room at the Museo de Colchagua in Santa Cruz tells the story of the miners' ordeal. Three of them have contributed to the exhibition which, as well as offering an insight into the their working life, focuses on the rescue operation. Testimonials from families who lived at "Camp Hope" are complemented by copies of the three rescue plans, details of the technology and strategies used, and an assessment of the event's global impact.


2. The People's History Museum, UK

Visitors are invited to join "a march through time following Britain's struggle for democracy over two centuries" at this Manchester museum where the collections have been designated as being of national importance. Objects and archives from the organised labour movement of the past 200 years aim to bring to life the social history of working people. Highlights include one of the finest collections of political cartoons and posters from the Spanish Civil War, a selection of commemorative ceramics, and 70,000 images relating to the Labour Party and social history. Quirky exhibits include Thomas Paine's death mask, Kier Hardie's pit lamp, and Ben Tillet's bag from the dock strike of 1889.


3. Museum of Chinese in America, USA

This exhibition, which tells the story of a whole community, is housed in a building beautifully refurbished by the architect Maya Lin on the edge of New York's Chinatown. Various galleries explore the history of the Chinese diaspora, the struggle for recognition, and the contribution of this key immigrant community to building the United States. The core exhibition, With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America, leads you around a central courtyard. Displays include an illuminated floor map, artefacts from the homeland, duotone portraits of the first immigrants, and short biographical films projected on to courtyard windows. It all serves to offer an engaging insight.


4. Apartheid Museum, South Africa

The rise and fall of the regime that turned more than 20 million people into second-class citizens for almost 50 years is charted at this museum in Johannesburg. It aims to tell the story of "the triumph of the human spirit over adversity" and is curated by a range of experts to combine the disciplines of film-making, history and design. Embark on an emotional journey through 22 exhibition areas featuring film footage, photographs, artefacts and text panels that exemplify the reality of human suffering as a result of racial discrimination. There's a sense of hope here, too, as South Africa tries to show how it is coming to terms with its past.


5. Australian Museum

Not only is this Sydney museum home to a huge variety of natural history and science-related exhibits, but it has more than 40,000 ethnographic objects and a million archaeological artefacts relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Most were acquired from the New South Wales area in the 200 years since colonisation. They reflect the changing nature and experience of these indigenous cultures in colonial and federated Australia during the 180 years that they were denied citizenship. The stories of early resistance, the land rights movement, and the apology to the Stolen Generations, are told through paintings, sculpture and crafts, as well as hunting and fishing tools and body adornments.


6. Solidarity Museum, Poland

This was opened in 2000 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1980 Gdansk shipyard strikes. The Solidarity Museum centres on a permanent exhibition, Roads to Freedom, which charts the Solidarity movement in the context of Poland's struggle against the communist regime. Outside, visitors can pose by the wall scaled by Lech Walesa to lead the shipyard workers. Exhibits within bring alive the stories of political uprisings and martial law, while the harsh reality of life is brought home through reconstructions of bare cupboards and shop shelves stocked only with vinegar and lard. Boards that carried the strikers' 21 handwritten demands, along with letters of support, are also here.


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