Displaying ‘Lifting Us Up – Saluting Our Sisters’
This installation was first shown at the Brighton Centre for Contemporary Arts. It was pride of place during the Windrush 75 celebrations at the Brighton Book Festival in June 2023.
Later in the summer Pauline Rutter, the Archival Artist, was wrapping it up ready to put into storage in her garage. She mentioned this to me over a cup of tea.
These Windrush-era women’s stories had been retrieved from various archives. Pauline had brought them together into one installation. The irony wasn’t lost on us that the curated stories were about to be archived again.
Museum exhibitions and displays have long lead times. Exhibition space is booked and budgets are allocated typically years in advance.
Loan items are sometimes sourced from other museums and archives. Artefacts may need careful restoration and conservation plans put in place. Humidity, temperature and light need to be adjusted to preserve them. Not to mention the challenges around how to hang installations in listed buildings. We can’t just hammer nails in the walls.
But we wanted to keep ‘Lifting Us Up – Saluting Our Sisters’ out of storage. Which meant displaying it as quickly as possible. Maybe even in time for a talk during Black History Month in October. It was August.
What if we could find a space for it in the museum? Could we cut lead times from two years to two months? Could we install it, publicise it – and even arrange an artist’s talk? We had to try.
Pulling out all the stops
B&HM staff rallied round. Gaye, our Head of Conservation, and her team pulled out all the stops. They rejigged schedules, solved space problems – and found a way to hang the canvases that wouldn’t damage the museum walls.
The display was up two months after our cuppa. Our marketing team was able to get coverage on two BBC Radio Sussex shows. It was also featured on BBC Television’s South East Today. Pauline’s talk was scheduled for the 28th October, the last Saturday of Black History Month.
Our CEO Hedley Swain introduced Pauline on a rainy afternoon to a packed audience. History enthusiasts, guests working in cultural archives joined writers and artists. Shirley Williamson, who features in the display, was our guest of honour. She was there along with her husband Bert. Many people stayed on afterwards, making new connections or catching up.
The installation is up until the New Year. The crinkling paper on the canvases is a result of the humidity. There hadn’t been time for Pauline to protect the installation. We’ve now installed a dehumidifier.
However, Pauline took it in her stride: