Human rights exhibition is first of its kind

Project director Dr Avril Alba inside the Sydney Jewish Museum’s new permanent Holocaust and Human Rights exhibition. Photo: Giselle Haber

AFTER three years of research and development, the Sydney Jewish Museum opened a new permanent exhibition on human rights last week, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia.

The exhibition focuses on historic and contemporary human rights struggles in Australia and the world, major achievements, and ongoing challenges.

The museum’s CEO, Norman Seligman, said the new exhibition “encourages thought and reflection as well as providing an opportunity to pose questions”.

“While we explore human rights issues, we also strongly encourage the concept of personal responsibility and the need for individuals to stand up and voice their concerns,” Seligman said.

“This completes the museum’s major refurbishment, following the opening of the new Holocaust exhibition last year, and will be supported by ongoing education and public programs.”

Key parts of the exhibition are a timeline wall of major human rights developments and violations, including multimedia displays that show the evolution of international human rights law and continuing instances of genocide and mass atrocities in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Some of the major milestones featured are the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, but also gaps in those human rights pillars, like the omission of minority and Indigenous rights.

Four multimedia tabletop displays in an adjoining space let visitors explore human rights themes from different perspectives, focusing on human rights of Indigenous peoples, people with a disability, asylum seekers and refugees, and LGBTIQ rights.

The last section is an interactive zone designed to allow people to reflect and write down their thoughts and answers to questions like what individuals can do to promote human rights.

The exhibition’s research team leader, Dr Avril Alba from the University of Sydney, told The AJN a lot of comparative research was done to narrow down key human rights issues to highlight and explore in a way that people could directly relate to.

“We felt these had to have direct relevance, both to the historical past and to ongoing human rights issues,” Dr Alba said.”There’s a corner of the exhibition where we ask people to think about who has the responsibility to make human rights work and what the main challenges and setbacks to human rights are.

“Often people feel disenfranchised about how they can make a difference, so we ask people to reflect on these key questions.”

Other significant contributors behind the exhibition’s research and design process include Associate Professor Jennifer Barrett, Professor Dirk Moses, Sarah Haid and creative director Jisuk Han.

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow will officially launch the new exhibition at a private, invitation only event on February 15.

SHANE DESIATNIK