Difficult Issues Around Gender
Photo of the banner at the Women’s Museum building has been shared more than 1 million times on social media.
Museums can be places for untold stories and difficult themes. Museums can frame debate and ideology as well as political discussions.
The Women’s Museum in Denmark was founded more than 30 years ago. From the very beginning this museum has developed a reputation for giving voices to minorities and bringing hidden or shameful realities to the forefront. How to combine cultural heritage with uncomfortable questions?
Our Goal is not to have a blockbuster exhibition using difficult themes – rather to heightened awareness and reach new target groups. By switching between difficult themes and mainstream exhibitions we also reach our more traditional guests.
Creating exhibitions about uncomfortable subjects from personal cases is a challenge. Ethical considerations are of the utmost importance when using authentic personal experiences. The informant must not feel abused at any time.
Immigrant mother with her daughter hosting an exhibition where her case is one of several life stories about refugees and immigrants.
Museums are an excellent place to create identity. They can be a comfort zone but should not try to be places of social healing and recovery. Difficult themes in our museum can give substance for social reflection, tolerance and understanding of difficult conditions and acceptance of diversity. We don’t interpret women as victims even when we focus on gender conflicts in themes such as refugees and religion, drugs and alcohol, prostitution and trafficking, abuse and rape. Transgender stories are included in our newest exhibition. Together with LGBT persons we train our staff to be norm-critical.
If a museum is to be a platform for modern life it has to be dynamic and open to new challenges – and create a dialogue with communities surrounding them.
Merete Ipsen, co-founder of the Women’s Museum 1983. Held a number of positions of trust as chairman of the Danish Council of Museums (1998-2002), chairman of the Danish national committee of ICOM (2003-2009), member of ICOM’s Executive Council (2010-16) and of the Danish national UNESCO committee (since 2010).
Images: Merete Ipsen