The four-room exhibition includes texts in both Gaelic and English, along with a Neolithic skeleton and photo documentary of Outer Hebrides.
GUGA: Exploring Gaelic Identities celebrated its opening on Friday at the Hunterian Art Gallery.
The exhibition presents objects, books and manuscripts associated with Gaelic language and culture from the collections of The Hunterian and University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections. GUGA spans across four rooms and encourages visitors to ask what Gaelic means in contemporary Scotland.
It also features images by photographer Laetitia Vancon from her project At the end of the day, a photo documentary of young people living in the Outer Hebrides.
Gaelic was once spoken throughout Scotland, but currently has 87,000 speakers largely in parts of the Western Isles. A portion of Gaelic speakers live outside of the Gàidhealtachd, the Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Islands, with 10,000 living in Glasgow. Most Scots who speak Gaelic are migrants or descendants of migrants from traditionally Gaelic-speaking areas, but there are still many who have an interest in learning the language.
GUGA opened during the first day of the 2019 Royal National Mòd, a festival of Scottish Gaelic culture, which has been teaching people Gaelic for over 100 years.
Objects in the exhibition include various books and relics that examine the indigenous culture of Gàidhealtachd, including a Neolithic skeleton from the Scottish island of Tiree.
Hunterian Deputy Director and exhibition curator Mungo Campbell wants visitors to remember that Gaelic is still used throughout Scotland and is not an exotic ‘other’ form of communication. Mungo said it is important to understand Gaelic is a language that is capable of being used in large urban centers, not just places that seem distant.
“I want visitors primarily to have asked themselves questions about the relationship between the community of languages they encounter in their everyday lives,” Campbell said. “They may find differences, but we should learn to value the things that we share.”
Campbell said that especially during the UNESECO International Year of Indigenous Languages, people should want to learn more about other countries with minority languages.
“We’re not trying to tell people what to think,” Campbell said about the exhibition’s purpose. “We’re trying to encourage people to ask questions of themselves, to be curious and have open-minds to the multiple ways heritage and culture and language intersect.”
Ben Fast, a member of the Alberta Museum Association who is visiting Scotland from Canada, attended GUGA opening day. Fast said he was particularly impressed with not only the way the exhibition presented questions of Gaelic identity, but how it reminded him of his own culture.
“There are connections to the indigenous experiences in Canada,” Fast said. “I wasn’t expecting that. The exhibition is a really good way to contextualize culture of the past and present.”
Fast was also impressed with how accessible the items were. Visitors can view texts in both Gaelic and English to investigate the Gaelic language and societies in which they are spoken, written and read.
GUGA shows the strong historic connections between the University of Glasgow, the people of Gàidhealtachd and its culture, especially since Gaelic can still be found throughout contemporary Scotland.
“So many of the names in Glasgow that are familiar come from an age in which the people living in Glasgow and various communities around the city were themselves Gaelic-speaking,” Campbell said. “So many of their names have their origins from a time when this was as much as part of the Gàidhealtachd as those places we now view as outside of the Gàidhealtachd.”
GUGA: Exploring Gaelic Identities is at the Hunterian Art Gallery with free admission from 11 October 2019 until 2 February 2020.