Migration Museum: Robyn Kasozi – Interview
We caught up with Migration Museum Head of Public Engagement Robyn Kasozi as the brand new museum site opens in our home borough of Lewisham!
Tell us about the Migration Museum’s move to Lewisham and what you hope to achieve there...
We’re really excited to be opening the doors to our new venue in Lewisham on Friday 14 February 2020.
Our new home, on the site of a former branch of retailer H&M, is almost three times the size of our previous venue in Lambeth.
As a new museum, we’re constantly asking ourselves how we can make what we do more accessible, breaking down barriers and reaching wider audiences. Which is why we’re so excited to be opening our new venue in the heart of a busy shopping centre in one of London’s most dynamic and diverse boroughs. As a new, non-traditional museum, being based in a shopping centre, a non-traditional cultural space that is accessible to all and can break down the perceived and real barriers to entry to museums and cultural spaces that some people encounter, feels extremely fitting.
We’ll be staging a series of exhibitions, events and workshops throughout the year exploring how the movement of people to and from Lewisham, London and the UK across the ages has shaped who we are – as individuals, as communities and as a nation.
We’ll be opening with two exhibitions: Room to Breathe, an immersive exhibition inviting visitors on a journey through a series of rooms in which hundreds of personal stories from generations of new arrivals to Britain are brought to life in creative and unexpected ways; and Humanæ, a participatory project by artist Angélica Dass documenting every human skin tone through portrait photographs.
In April, we’ll be launching Departures, a new exhibition exploring 400 years of British emigration through personal narratives, contemporary art and a range of media to coincide with the anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to North America.
The Migration Museum has something for everyone – whether you live locally or further afield, identify as an immigrant or trace your family roots in Britain back many generations. After all, if you peel back the layers of anyone’s family history, you will find stories of movement and migration.
What inspires you to work on the project?
First and foremost, migration stories are just human stories. There’s an adage which says that there are only two plots in fiction: A person goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.
Few of us aren’t affected by migration – whether it’s an aunt that lives in Australia, a favorite footballer from Brazil, a commute to work on a Roman road, or a parent that came over to the UK from another country (as one of mine did). Yet often how this movement of people to and from the UK has shaped our everyday lives is overlooked.
Migration has become a polarising subject and we don’t feel that it should be. I’m inspired to work on the project because I enjoy hearing different people’s stories and seeing people recognise themselves, and others, in British history in a way that perhaps they haven’t before.
What advice would you give to people who would like to get involved with the museum or other projects around migration?
Get in touch and share your story! We would love to hear from you. In addition to our exhibitions we have an extensive programme of events from artist workshops to football tournaments; Family History Days to stand-up comedy.
We explore themes that appeal to a wide range of people with a focus on personal stories which lie at the heart of all we do. If you can’t make it to one of our exhibitions or events why not share your story using the hashtag #AllOurStories on social media.
What do you think Brexit will mean for migrant stories like the ones you’re trying to tell at the museum?
Brexit represents a moment of change and uncertainty in terms of Britain’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world – in particular for EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in the EU – and raises key questions about who we are and the kind of nation that we want to be.
Concerns about immigration played a major role in the EU referendum campaigns, and debates were often angry and polarised, and, in some cases, underpinned by misinformation – or at least a lack of context. There has also been a reported increase in incidences of racist hate crimes since 2016.
However our history of migration predates Brexit, the EU and the lifetimes of even our parents’ grandparents. We want to have a more historically informed conversation around migration – and part of this conversation does include EU migration, but it also includes the Romans, the Saxons, the French protestant Huguenots and the Windrush Generation among many, many others.
As our previous exhibition, No Turning Back, explored, we have faced many moments of change and uncertainty in the past – and will likely face many more in the future. In the current climate, it’s more important than ever that we seek to engage and encourage dialogue and understanding across political divides and to provide a space, away from the often polarised, and angry voices in politics, the media and online, where we can explore questions of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. We feel that if you can make connections and increase understanding on a human level, then this benefits us all, whatever your political stance.
What are your favourite London haunts in Lewisham and beyond?
Since the museum has moved to Lewisham, it’s been brilliant to get to know the area a bit better. Two of our team live locally and have introduced us to some of their favourites, including the Italian deli, Antonio, Sajee, which serves up delicious dosas, and Cummin’ Up, which has been a firm favourite since before we came to the area. They actually catered for our Windrush Day Elders Luncheon with artist EVEWRIGHT in Lambeth last year.
I’m based in east London but north of the river, so my favourite London haunts are mostly around Bethnal Green and Hackney. The Brick Lane Bookshop always has a great selection of autobiographies and local history, and I might visit Autograph Gallery if I’m in the area as their photography exhibitions are great, and free! Food-wise you can’t go wrong with a Mangal One on Arcola Street.