Emotional, yes, but depressing – not at all: yes the International Slavery Museum pulls no punches in its portrayal of Liverpool’s sad part in the slave trade, but this is no self-indulgent public exercise in hand-wringing.
The museum celebrates the city’s resurgent west African culture (with guides on hand to tell their stories, and their family’s stories too: perhaps the most engaging part of any visit to this museum). The International Slavery Museum tracks the journeys of salves from West Africa across the Atlantic, moving through to the further journeys of the African diaspora across the world.
The museum does not shy away from modern-day slavery and people trafficking either, lending it a rare vitality and relevance. The repercussions of enslavement, empire, race and racism are explored through modern events such as the Toxteth riots, which took place just a few miles from the International Slavery Museum. Its location on the Albert Dock is pointed too: Liverpool was a popular mercantile destination and hub for the international salve trade.
History and culture are inventively represented too, in exhibitions ranging from class and culture in cricket to the all-too-present phenomenon of human trafficking. A thoughtful and enlightened response to the city’s darker days.
A big exhibition in 2016, Afro Supa Hero, looked at how black people have been characterised and represented in speculative fiction, including Star Trek’s Lt Uhura, Red Dwarf’s Dave Lister (also a Scouser) and Blake’s 7’s Dayna. Marvel superheroes, real-life role models and Afro-Caribbean icons such as Muhammed Ali and Martin Luther King also featured.
While it’s part of the same building that houses the Maritime Museum, the International Slavery Museum isn’t just an addendum – or token hand-waving. It’s a vital, if sombre, element of Liverpool’s DNA.
Entrance is free. The museum shares a shop, restaurant and cafe with the Maritime Museum.
International Slavery MuseumDock Traffic Office,