A stunning architectural achievement dedicated exclusively to human rights as a concept and aspiration was built in 2014. It has dramatically changed the skyline of Manitoba’s capital city; the Canadian Museum of Human Rights is simply a marvel. “This museum is great because it is completely unique in the world,” says Maureen Fitzhenry, media relations manager. It is also a national museum and Canadian Crown Corporation with the purpose of exploring the subject of human rights. Additionally, the Canadian Human Rights Museum does have a special but not exclusive reference to Canada and it enhances the public’s understanding of human rights; to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue.
The museum’s seven exhibit floors feature stories perhaps bittersweet in nature and simulating. Modern interactive technology offers a way for visitors of all ages and abilities to experience how we connect as humans.
WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS?
As the name implies, this exhibit is dedicated to defining the true meaning of what it means to have human rights; how it has changed the lives of individuals throughout history. This is one of the 10 original permanent exhibits which includes a global human rights timeline starting as early as 4000 BC with 100 select moments along with a digital audio guide. In the past, people coped with ideas of human respect and duty.
However, today the term generally refers to the rights and freedoms we have as human beings. Inside you will find a Brentwood box from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as objects from the suffragette movement in the United States. Also, artifact cases include objects such as a ballot box from the first democratic election in South Africa. The gallery immerses people in a multimedia show featuring people speaking from their own perspectives on human rights.
Expressing rights and responsibilities. This is one of the most dramatic sections of the Canadian Human Rights Museum. This includes a 360-degree theater of curved wooden slats, some include original works of art. There is a thematic wall and a 2.5 story installation titled “Trace” by Rebecca Belmore. This is described by curator Lee-Ann as a contemporary “ceramic blanket”. It is also known to be part of a series by Winnipeg-based Anishinaabe artist Belmore expose the traumatic history and ongoing violence against Aboriginal people.
The objective is also to examine the concepts of civil rights and responsivities of indigenous people as stated by Jodi Giesbrecht, the acting manager of research and curation for the museum. Indigenous stories are mixed throughout every single gallery in the museum.
“This is the first place where visitors are exposed to some of those concepts of rights and knowledge passed down for generations.”
The Canadian Journeys gallery is dedicated to showing the ways human rights had been experienced in Canada. This is the largest gallery in the museum which portrays dozens of Canadian stories from democratic rights to language rights. Here, a digital canvas also presents stories across a 29-meter screen, while others are accessed on floor stations. The digital exhibits include residential schools, disabilities from Ryerson University, Chinese head tax, the Underground Railroad, missing and murdered aboriginal women, the forced relocation of Inuit, Komagata Maru, Japanese during WWII, and the Winnipeg General Strike.
Along with the digital exhibits are several films, an image grid, and a game focused on social inclusion for youth. Jodi Giesbrecht states, “One thing that visitors will notice is that this isn’t a straightforward march through Canadian history, this was kind of a deliberate approach. The stories are organized not chronologically, but thematically.”
EXAMINING THE HOLOCAUST AND OTHER GENOCIDES
Dark history can be difficult to take in at times. However, it plays an important piece in human history and highly valuable to observe. Examining the Holocaust exhibit is the most controversial gallery at the Canadian Human Rights Museum. Entering the room you’ll notice a darker tone as the room is built of black steel and glass making a moody space. The gallery is also centered on the five genocides recognized by Canada. These are the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and the Bosnian ethnic cleansing.
Additionally, the Holocaust section relies on the work of Polish scholar Raphael Lemkin who explains the genesis of genocide. It takes an analytical approach, rather than a commemorative approach, to try to understand the mechanisms of genocide, to understand how genocides happen,” said Giesbrecht. Additionally, olocaust survivors have lined the room with images and their personal stories. The center also includes a film examining anti-Semitism in Canada and Canada’s response to the Holocaust.
TURING POINTS FOR HUMANITY
After seeing the Holocaust exhibit, the museum places a more hopeful and uplifting exhibit; a physical and sensory shift in tone. The four freedoms are a large section of this exhibit. It uses objects to tell four stories from various parts of the world conveying the importance of the four fundamental freedoms, each articulated by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These being freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.
The stories also convey how rights and freedoms are fragile and vigilance is needed to ensure their continued protection. This gallery is organized vertically and shows projections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; meant to symbolize the lofty ideals and aspirations. Roosevelt was also attracted to these freedoms with the aim of encouraging the country to support the Allied war efforts against Nazi Germany whose campaigns of aggression were in complete opposition to these ideals of universal freedoms.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
A gallery holding a quiet and respectful place for learning about many mass atrocities is the Breaking the Silence gallery. The focus is to help visitors understand that whenever human rights violations occur, we have a role to play. We have to break the silence by the very act of learning and discussing them. The gallery features a long, rectangular study table with advanced touch-based digital technology with 24 projection display panels. At each panel, visitors can also explore different topics like residential schools. Additionally, large groups of people can also work together to discuss the material in a social context.
Additionally, an instructor’s “facilitated mode” is enabled through optical recognition using a patterned identification card placed on a station. So, with that mode, the instructor is also mirrored on the other stations. The content presented is served from the museum’s ECMS allowing new events to be added. Additionally, custom map rendering software is used as well. It also allows new events to be found in various regions of the world.
The Actions Count gallery is one of the most youth-oriented galleries in the museum. Focused on how you can take action every day, the exhibit promotes and advance human rights. The stories covered are about children and youth with themes from residential schools and reconciliation. It covers the topics of bullying, cultural expression, tolerance, gay/straight alliances, and so forth.
You will also be inspired by the ways Canadians take action on human rights in schools around the world. The gallery includes an interactive game table that uses sensors to detect human hand movements. This then prompts reflection on how the choices we make in everyday life affect others. The game allows six or more visitors to play with dynamic decision making. It asks players to effect positive change in their local communities while racing against the clock. The graphics are then projected onto the table from projectors overhead.
Human rights in the contemporary world are ever-changing in our interconnected world. The Rights Today gallery is has a long image grid. This grid shows real-time tweets from non-governmental agencies partnered with the museum. “We’re not a news agency, so we’re not going to broadcast news every day. However, this is one way we can show that every day, contemporary, what’s being discussed right now,” says Giesbrecht. There will also be exhibits on Canadian human rights defenders like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Craig Kielburger and Vincent Pietropaolo. The gallery tackles contemporary human rights struggles with an interactive wall map. It also has a tapestry of human rights defenders, and a theater bringing current issues to light from what is shown in the media.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The Human Rights Defenders exhibit highlights the extraordinary achievements of select Canadian personalities. These individuals have been continuously fighting actively against human rights abuses. Visitors learn about each defender’s childhood and the events that shape their beliefs. Stories can be accessed via touchscreens. They allow visitors to interact with multimedia content. Visitors can also learn about noteworthy accomplishments. For example, it showcases Marina Nemat’s incredible escape from torture in a post-revolutionary Iran.
Additionally, they can also listen to anti-racism media by Buffy Sainte-Marie which lead her to become blacklisted from the radio. Also, issues such as child labor, women’s rights, and environmental justice are among items tackled within the stories. The exhibit also strives to inspire others to further explore related issues and become active human rights defenders themselves.
The Living Tree is a gallery aimed at shedding light on the flexible nature of Canadain law. It shows the characteristics of the Canadian Constitution and its influence. It does this by showing a large poetic video projection of a “Living Tree”. The video transitions blending words and paragraphs from documents, declarations, and courts. It begins at the ground composed of international treaties of human rights; an artistic and poetic piece that addresses current and future social needs and realities. Additionally, it is a scalable software solution allowing for immediate changes of text and flow of animations. Additionally, it demonstrating how we all can play a part in the legal system.