The purpose of a museum or an exhibition is not about conveying information (which is a commodity in this information age) but invoking emotion from within, make a basis for reflection and let the visitor grasp the real significance of the situation. The whole idea is to present an experience. I had one such memorable experience when I entered the permanent exhibition – Defending Human Dignity by Gringo Cardia, a Brazilian graphic designer and an artist inside the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.
The purpose of a museum or an exhibition is not about conveying information but invoking emotion from within Click To Tweet
Sculpture of Swiss Humanist Henry Dunant
The first room of the exhibition presents us the background of the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in a creative way. George Segal’s sculpture of the Swiss humanist Henry Dunant portrays him while he was writing the book – A Memory of Solferino. We saw some of the thoughts of Henry Dunant projected under the table. Through this sculpture the history came alive in front of us.Through this sculpture the history came alive in front of us. Click To Tweet
Henry Dunant, who was the first recipient of the Nobel peace prize, wrote about the suffering of wounded soldiers of the Battle of Solferino in his book – A Memory of Solferino, which had an important role in the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Dignity trampled under foot
The exhibition took a hold on my feelings when I saw this striking sculpture labelled as “Dignity trampled underfoot”. It moved me so much that whenever I come across inhuman conditions anywhere in the world, my mind automatically refers back to this representation – hence the fulfillment of the art and the artist. It has had an impeccable impact on me ever since.
Although the sculpture portrays a harsh truth on the face, the room exhibits some dates that inspire us. Here are some of them that I would like to share with you all. 539 BC – Freedom of religion was declared in Persia. 480 BC – Altruism in China. 260 BC – King Ashoka in India, after his conversion to non-violence advocates for “Respect of the Weakest”.
The 1864 Geneva Convention – For humanity in the battle field
After going through the history and various incidents of human rights violation, we were presented will all the important excerpts from the first Geneva convention that took place in 1864.
Some of the excerpts from 1864 Geneva conventions are as follows.
Ambulances and Military hospitals shall be recognized neutral [..]
Inhabitants of the country who bring help to the wounded shall be respected and shall remain free […]
Wounded or sick combatants, to whatever nation they may belong, shall be collected and cared for […]
A distinctive and uniform flag shall be adopted for hospitals, ambulances, and evacuation parties […] Both flag and armlet shall bear a red cross on a white background.
Remembering the quote by Henry Dunant,
To help, without asking whom Click To Tweet
To help, without asking whom
The museum dealt the complex topic with care. The first stage is all about sensitizing and gives a powerful emotional experience that leaves its mark on our memory. The second stage is the information stage that gives explanations linked to the previous experience. After receiving all the explanations, a visitor enters into a room where he/she comes across various gifts made by prisoners for ICRC delegates.
The collection in this room reminds the awful situations of violence in various parts of the world over the last century – from Chile to Vietnam, Algeria to Yugoslavia, Rwanda to Afghanistan…and the list seems endless.
All the gifts were made from very basic materials available to prisoners. These gifts convey a need – a need to escape their confined environment. I found a comment made by one one female detainee very illuminating.
Creating something sets you free. It’s a way of expressing yourself when everything around you tends to silence you and make you forget who you are.
Creating something sets you free. It’s a way of expressing yourself when everything around you tends to silence you and make you forget who you are. Click To Tweet
Chamber of Witnesses
After crossing the prisoner’s room, I entered a room named Chamber of Witnesses.
In this room, I heard testimonies from real witnesses. It gives an opportunity to a visitor to get actively involved in the exploration of various humanitarian activities.
I realized once again that humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce such appalling violations of human rights.
The Colors of Dignity
At the end of this exhibition I came across this board which depicts the color of dignity. This board changes colors and shapes whenever visitors touch it. It leaves a space for interpretation. I feel it is all about you and me and our thoughts. If we want, we can affect the course of events just like the board which changes its color and shape whenever we touch it.
The European Museum of the Year’s Kenneth Hudson Award
In 2015, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum was awarded the European Museum of the Year’s Kenneth Hudson Award, “for the perfect balance it has found between the sharpness of its message and the multitude of nuanced ways it is expressed, and for the creation of a compelling case from selected stories which tell of humanitarian crises but also of hope and perseverance.”
This is a must see museum for those who love to explore and experience the topic of human rights and the invaluable work being done by the Red Cross.
By Thy power, let there be peace, O God!
By Henry Dunant
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