Bias Bar — Photo: Johannes Granseth / Nobel Peace Center

Welcome to the Bias Bar — Can I serve you a bias of mine?

How to talk about biases at the museum without starting a fight?

Our current exhibition Detours is about people who have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. We have heard a great deal about Syria and the refugee crisis in recent years, and with this exhibition, we wish to take a fresh look at the situation.

This is an issue that is important to us at the Nobel Peace Center. Four Nobel Peace Prize have rewarded efforts on behalf of refugees. Helping people in need is peace work. And yet, the current situation in Syria is subject to much debate. We hear about millions of people in need, and we hear a great deal about how these refugees can cause problems for us. When we talk about the “refugee crisis”, what do we actually mean? What is the real “problem”? That so many are in need, or that so many die on their journey across the Mediterranean, or that so many come to us?

Last year, 3460 asylum seekers came to Norway, 529 of them from Syria. Is “crisis” the right word to use? And who is it a crisis for?

The debate surrounding the current refugee crisis has made one thing clear: our own biases. Can we address these biases without unnecessarily offending anyone? Isn’t a museum the right place to have this conversation?

We all have biases. Biases we know we have, biases we wish we could get rid of, or biases we’ve encountered in our everyday life.

Biases are something we usually keep hidden deep inside, whether we know it or not. Bias are difficult to address, and can easily become a taboo. Everyone has biases, and biases in themselves aren’t dangerous. However, if these biases inform our decisions, it may lead to discrimination, especially when these biases concern a vulnerable group.

How could we create an exhibition about refugees without addressing this issue? With our Bias Bar, we wanted to take this essential part of the refugee crisis debate into the museum and acknowledge its role in the way we perceive each other.

A bar, on the other hand, is a place where you meet others, discuss the latest news and sometimes, let out some of your frustration. Our Bias Bar is a bar where you don’t get served either drinks or coffee, but biases, either your own or those you’ve been exposed to. After you’ve seen all six art installations making up Detours, this bar is a space for you to sit down and let your impressions sink in. Maybe, even contribute in the exhibition by sharing a bias of yours. This is an informal space with a low threshold for you to participate.

The result, so far, has exceeded our expectations. We’ve been rewarded with honesty, humility, a good dose of humour and some surprising confessions.

“I judge people as soon as I see them. I wish I could stop.”
“Because I’m Jamaican, everyone expects me to smoke weed.”
“I need to become more educated on Muslim beliefs and culture.”

The best way to address biases isn’t necessarily facts or knowledge, it’s contact with others. There’s only so much an exhibition can do, but we believe it’s a start. Could this turn into an experiment in empathy as more and more bricks make it onto the shelves? How much can such an installation achieve in the six months the exhibition is on display?

Bias Bar — Photos: Adeline Cuvelier / Nobel Peace Center

Our recipe is quite simple:

1. Pick a card.
2. Speak out!

Here’s the menu:

Up to you to either share something personal or react to a bias from our menu.

• Share a bias of your own that you would like to get rid of. 
• Write down a bias someone has had towards you. 
• What is the funniest stereotype you know of?
• “All terrorists are Muslims.”
• “Refugees are just looking for money.”
• “There is no racism in Norway.”
• “Women who wear hijabs are oppressed.” 
• “I’m not a racist, but…” (fill in the blank)

And here are some of the biases we’ve been served:

“I often think that people are less educated than me when they don’t share my political opinions.”
“People think that because I am an introvert, I am easily manipulated and can be spoken for.”
“I’m not a woman because I don’t want kids.”
“I’m a medical doctor and I’m homosexual. I’ve been told that I’d better make transvestite shows, instead of being a doctor!”
“When the IRA bombed London, Manchester and Birmingham, we didn’t ban all the Irish or Catholics, we understood it was a small group of arseholes.”
“I am not a racist, but I voted for Donald Trump.”

What about you? Any bias you’ve encountered or overcome? We would love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to let us know what you think in the comment section!

Read our previous piece about the exhibition Detours: Oh look, a refugee!

On display at the Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, Norway, until September 3rd, 2017. The Bias Bar was made possible by the financial support of the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO and the Oslo Municipality.

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