The Museum of the Home 'welcomes peaceful protest' over Geffrye statue
- Credit: Holly Chant
Hoxton's Museum of the Home is ready to welcome back visitors after more than three years closed, following an £18million renovation.
While the museum has been the subject of controversy following a decision to keep a statue of slaver trader Sir Robert Geffrye standing, its curators have worked to address the figure's past and to exhibit diverse notions and stories of home.
Documents released by the Museum of the Home last year revealed government pressure to keep the statue intact, due to its listed status, with culture minister Oliver Dowden telling the institution to be “mindful” of its position “as a government-funded organisation”.
Nevertheless, director Sonia Solicari is excited to reopen after major renovation work was carried out by Wright and Wright Architects. She said: "I think that it’s a really sensitive and exciting combination of the old 18th century buildings, and new elements as well."
The director explained how the basements of the 300-year-old building were dug out to create new galleries, a new studio space and new pavilion for the museum's education programmes as well as a café which has direct access on to the street.
Rooms Through Time exhibits show the chronological, material evolution of homes in Britain from the 1600s onwards and the museum's new flagship galleries look more at "emotional and psychological" concepts of home.
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Sonia says the galleries mix historic and contemporary materials, ultimately asking: "What does home mean to you?"
Controversy over the statue looms with a protest calling for its fall planned for the opening on June 12.
But Sonia says the museum "welcomes peaceful protest", adding: "As a museum we are a centre of debate and discussion so we welcome that dialogue."
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A panel has been installed with a QR code leading to more information on Geffrye's history and how changes have been made to reinterpret collections showcasing more stories of Britain's colonial history.
The museum is also featuring a temporary art installation called Bearers of Home created by BLKBRD Collective.
Five double-sided banners use statuesque imagery in a visual response to the debate around the Geffrye statue, exploring marginalised voices and asking whose stories should be remembered.
One member of the collective known as BEELO Da-Entangled said the banners showcase home as an "intangible entity", not limited to "four walls". They feature unidentified figures and refugee imagery.
BEELO said of the Geffrye statue: "We are against the statue and we would hope for its dismantling."
A film by Hackney artist and writer Michael McMillan, screened in the museums chapel, also works to demystify Geffyre's statue and the history of the museum.
In his film, Waiting for Myself to Appear, Michael reveals the untold story of a black Jamaican wet nurse who came to Britain with the wife of the building's chaplain in the late 19th century.
The artist said: "I have gone to museums all of my life. I’m always waiting for myself to appear. Looking in cabinets, your not allowed to touch those things – its someone else's story."
Michael said that is why, through his film, he "reimagined" the nurse: "I gave her a life, I gave her a name and then I placed her in the alms houses."
"The alms houses built by Sir Robert Geffrye with his money, sugar spice and slaves.
"We interrogate, or interview him. I think that’s important to bring that history into light."
All parts in the short film are played by Esther Niles, who works in the museum.
On the decision to keep the statues up, he said: "There is a bigger issue here than just Sir Robert Geffyre and The Museum of the Home.
"We have a government who is adamant that they will keep British history, we are regressing.
"We want to keep this colonial fantasy that Britain was so great – and it's not true."