Museum exhibitions

Current exhibitions

Asian and Chinese nannies in Hackney: The Home for Ayahs and Amahs

This display reveals new information about the history of the Ayahs’ and Amahs’ Home in Hackney, and some of the experiences of the many women who lived there.

Between 1900 and 1941 Hackney was home for hundreds of Chinese amahs and South Asian ayahs who were employed to look after children in British households during the colonial period in India, China and Southeast Asia.

Watch this film of the launch event.
Visit the display to find out more.
Until Saturday 27 August 2022

Other exhibitions

Permanent exhibition

Discover the stories of some of the amazing people that have made their homes here over the last 1,000 years, from Anglo-Saxon settlers to early Victorian villas and recent refugees.

Hackney’s tradition of welcoming newcomers means that its history encompasses the world-wide roots of many communities.

The displays reveal this diverse and changing history through fascinating interviews, objects and images.

Some of them, like the child’s sculpture from Sierra Leone and the propaganda sheet from Nazi Germany, powerfully illustrate the forces that have driven people to leave their homes.

Others like the contents of a Yiddish printing business, show the opportunities people have found here to make a living and start new lives.

Plus our display of artworks from the Chalmers Bequest features historic paintings alongside commissions from Terence Besmirch, Margarita Gluzberg and Paul Needham.

Bring the kids along on Fun Fridays and Super Saturdays 10am-4.30pm to learn about life in Hackney with our fun hands-on activities. All the family can load the Saxon boat, try on historical costumes or drive a number 38 bus and much more.

All children must be supervised by a responsible adult.

Past exhibitions


We Are All In This Together: Hackney during the pandemic

The world as we know it changed in 2020. The global Covid-19 pandemic transformed how we live overnight and we are still learning about the virus and its impact on individuals and communities.

This new display explores local people’s diverse experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic through their personal objects, photographs, and artwork. It also reveals how local people and organisations found ways to support NHS staff and other frontline workers. Also on display are a unique collection of photographs of Hackney under lockdown.

Until 4 June 2022.


Being African in Hackney: 1960s-2020s

14 September 2021 – 26 February 2022

This exhibition was the first in a series to explore, understand and share the experiences of Hackney’s diverse African heritage communities. African heritage communities in the borough have grown over the last 60 years.

The objects, photographs and oral histories displayed told stories of people moving to and living, working, studying and growing up in Hackney, from the 1960s to 2020s:

Out of the ManCave

18 May 2021 – 5 February 2022

This display shared the experiences of the Hackney Brocals, members of a social club for men aged 50+.

It was created by Angela Groundwater, an artist and wallpaper designer, who uses intricate patterns and personal artefacts to share stories from the participants’ lives before and during lockdown to combat isolation.


Hackney in the 1980s: Photographs from the Tape/Slide project

Until Saturday 14 August

From bingo halls to bmx bikes, demos to dole queues…

This photography exhibition explores and celebrates the resilience, spirit and solidarity of Hackney’s communities in the 1980s.

On display for the first time, the images taken by The Rio Cinema’s Tape/Slide – Hackney’s ground-breaking community photography project, capture a unique view of the highs and lows of everyday life.

Visit the exhibition to discover activism, creativity and community organising in Hackney.

The virtual launch for this exhibition was live streamed on YouTube on Thursday 29 October, at 6pm


Hackney’s Got Style: Celebrating the History and Impact of African and Caribbean Fashion and Hair

1 October 2019 to 21 March 2020

This exhibition shares and celebrates the history and impact of African and Caribbean style and hair through the eyes of Hackney people. Explore how the clothes we wear and how we style our hair has expressed and impacted identity since the 1950s, and what this means for us today. Discover the local entrepreneurs, designers and fashionistas who have changed British culture in the borough and beyond.

Please note, school groups will be visiting the exhibition Tuesday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm during October and November. Other visitors are still welcome, but may prefer to visit at quieter times.

Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s-1990s

14 May – 31 August 2019

This exhibition shares some of the radical visual imagery of the Lenthall Road Workshop, a screen printing and photography space based in Hackney from 1970s-1990s.

With posters, protests, and printing and photography classes, this collective made a unique contribution to the feminist and community arts movement.

Created in partnership with former workers.

Changing Faces, Hidden Stories: photographs from RA Gibson’s studio

A selection of photographs taken by RA Gibson’s studio in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. See a slice of Hackney’s history and maybe someone you know.

Another Time Another Place: Hackney in the 70s and 80s

15 January – 13 July 2019

A selection of photographs taken by Neil Martinson, documenting Hackney’s working class history. The photos show Hackney’s working lives, protests, children and young people, homelessness, Jewish life and street scenes.


Roots, Rhythms & Records: The sounds and stories of African and Caribbean music in Hackney

2 October 2018 – 16 March 2019

From making beats in bedrooms to performing on stage, enjoying sounds in shebeens to looking sharp for the club, this exhibition explores the history of African and Caribbean music in Hackney. Through stories of musical innovation, distribution and enjoyment, this exhibition celebrates the impact of African and Caribbean music in Hackney and beyond.

Please note, the exhibition will be busy with visiting school children from Tuesday to Friday between 9.30am and 3pm throughout November.

Mothers of Hackney: an exhibition by Hackney mums exploring their challenges and achievements

29 May to 5 January 2019

Mothers of Hackney talk about the challenges and triumphs of early motherhood. Shoreditch Trust’s Bump Buddies programme and Hackney Museum have been working with a group of Hackney mums to explore how we can tell stories of motherhood in Hackney in 2018. The V&A is also supporting this project.

The Mind’s Eye: art and recovery from brain injuries

12 June to 1 September

Since 1995, patients at the art workshop at Homerton Hospital have worked in collaboration with local artists and volunteers towards their recovery from brain injuries. The exhibition features artworks created and chosen by patients from the Regional Neurological Rehabilitation Unit.

Making Her Mark: 100 years of women’s activism

6 February to 19 May

The story of women’s activism in Hackney doesn’t begin or end with the suffragettes. Discover the inspiring stories of women who made a difference in the borough and beyond.

This exhibition was created by the East End Women’s Museum in collaboration with Hackney Museum.

From Bedroom to Battleground

1 February to 5 May

This exhibition shares the voices of the members of Project Indigo, a local LGBTQI+ youth group run by Off Centre, a young people’s mental health and wellbeing charity.

The members of Project Indigo hope that by sharing their personal stories, they can help to teach people what it’s like to be young and LGBTQI+ in Hackney.

Out and About

1 February to 5 May

‘Out and About’ is a collaborative wallpaper design project between artist Angela Groundwater and Out and About, an LGBTQI+ group for people aged 50 and over. The custom made wallpaper combines stories from Out and About group members with illustrations and patterns meaningful to their lives.




Island to Island: journeys through the Caribbean

3 October 2017 to 13 January 2018

This exhibition presents a visual journey through the English-speaking Caribbean with stunning photographs taken over the past sixty years. Find out how the region’s multicultural history has shaped the distinctive cultures found across the Caribbean today, through the work of photographer Tim Smith. The exhibition also includes rare images of everyday life in the 1950s and 60s, and personal memories from Hackney residents with connections to the Caribbean.

More Than Food

5 September 2017 to 13 January 2018

Hackney’s first FoodCycle Hub has been hosting free weekly meals on the New Kingshold Estate since January 2015. For guests, the meals are an important fixture in their daily lives: for some it is their only chance to chat and eat with others.

To celebrate the two year anniversary of the FoodCycle Hub, local photographer Jørn Tomter captured the Christmas lunch on 22 December 2016. Residents posed for portraits in a pop-up studio, and shared what coming to the meal means to them.

Warhol to Walker: American prints from pop art to today

11 July to 16 September 2017

From Andy Warhol to Hackney Wick, this special exhibition explores the influence print movements have had on Hackney.

Starting with the explosion of pop art in the 1960s, the exhibition displayed works loaned from the British Museum. Artists included Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Kara Walker as well as local artists.

The Golden Age of Social Housing: life on the Gascoyne Estate

14 February to 3 June 2017

Exploring the role that social housing played in the lives of Hackney’s communities through the words, films, family photographs and memories of Gascoyne Estate residents.

Madhouse, My House?

2 February to 20 May 2017

Until the 1980s many people with learning disabilities were forced to live in hospitals for ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’ and the ‘feeble minded’. Explore life at St. Lawrence’s using the stories of two ex-patients: Harvey Waterman and Mabel Cooper.

This interactive exhibition was researched and created by members of Access All Areas, a Hackney-based theatre company that works with people with learning disabilities.


The Missing Chapter: Black chronicles

21 November to 28 January

A selection of rare portraits portraying people of African, Caribbean and South Asian descent in Britain during the Victorian era. In partnership with Autograph ABP and part of The Missing Chapter project.

People Power: Black British arts and activism in Hackney 1960s-2000s

4 October to 21 January 2016

Aspects of Black British arts and activism developed in Hackney since the 1960s.

The Art of War: posters and propaganda from the First World War

25 February to 28 May 2016

Recruitment posters designed by graphic artists and creative agencies of the day, giving a glimpse into the psychology and communication methods of the time.

Home: exploring  young Hackney through music

Opening 25 February 2016

Inspired by the actions of Hackney teenagers in the 1960s, the Museum and Rising Tide challenged young men to write music about the most important issues in their lives today.

Not in My Name: Hackney’s conscientious objectors during the First World War

1 March to 1 October 2016, Hackney Archives

The stories of local people who objected to the war and how they faced public anger, harsh prison conditions and attacks from angry mobs. In partnership with the Peace Pledge Union.


African Threads – Hackney Style – 400 years of textiles journeys from Africa to Hackney

1 October 2015 to 23 January 2016

Explored Hackney’s historic ties with Africa through fabric and fashion, and how textiles were produced in different regions of Africa and the meaning behind some of their bold designs.

Picture Taking: Exploring Myself Through Photography

18 July to 31 December 2015

Photography offers a voice to people who find everyday communication a challenge. Featured the work of Emma, Qwayne, Mohammed, Jason, Izu and Luke, students at The Garden School in Hackney, which supports children with special educational needs many with an autistic spectrum disorder.

Cambodian Recollections: an exhibition of oral histories

16 June to 14 November 2015

A collection of UK-based Cambodians’ memories of the upheaval and purges from 1975 to 1979 along with the challenges of adapting to a new culture. In partnership with SEA ArtsFest and Khmer Arts and Heritage Limited with funding from the Heritage Lottery fund.

Hackney@50 The People’s Choice

12 February to 29 August 2015

50 objects telling 50 stories of 50 years of Hackney.

Stepping Out: Celebrating Hackney City Farm

3 February to 16 May 2015

An exhibition marking 30 years of Hackney City Farm. The exhibits were created with the community, drawing on local peoples’ stories and associations with the meaning of place. Artist Rebecca Davies created an interactive map with people who live, work or play in the E2 community. Supported by funding from Arts Council England.


Who Were the Slave-Owners of Hackney?

October 2014 to June 2015

Records of the Hackney slave-owners who claimed financial compensation for the loss of their ‘property’ when slavery was abolished – a time when Hackney was a fashionable semi-rural area where abolitionists and wealthy slave-owners lived side by side.

Strike a Pose: Portraits from a Hackney photo studio

1 October 2014 to 17 January 2015

An amazing collection of negatives from Gibson’s photography studio in Clapton showing untold stories. Asian, African and Caribbean weddings outside the Town Hall, portraits at home, graduations and all the styles and fashions of the 1970s.

What a Journey! Retired Caribbean Nurses and the NHS

10 September 2014 to 17 January 2015

Stories and memories of the young women who left the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s to work as nurses in Hackney, Newham and East London. The exhibition enabled visitors to hear their stories of dedication and camaraderie and see the possessions they brought with them and the medical equipment they used. Photo: BWA/RCN Collections.

London Life: Photographs by Colin O’Brien

24 June to 6 September 2014

Over 60 years of London life captured by local photographer Colin O’Brien.

Writing Home: Letters to Hackney during the First World War

6 May to 30 August 2014

Letters written to families and sweethearts at home in Hackney by two young soldiers fighting on the Front Line.

The Lido Song

7 Jan to 5 July 2014

Shane Solanki and Briony Campbell celebrated Hackney’s outdoor swimming pool in song with support from Hackney Museum and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Side by Side: Living in Cazenove

21 January to 17 May 2014

Artworks by local residents, artists, filmmakers, photographers, community groups and schools, exploring how people from all over the world live side by side in Cazenove Road.


Oh Yes It Is! Celebrating 15 years of Hackney Empire’s pantomime

20 November 2013 to 19 April 2014

Spectacular costumes from the Empire’s pantos with original costume design, a host of photographs and insights from creative director Susie McKenna and musical director Steven Edis.

Sankofa: Why Britain celebrates Black History Month

24 September 2013 to 4 January 2014

A look back over 75 years of the history of African and African Caribbean people in this country and the rise of Black History Month, including rarely seen archive material from anti-racism campaign groups.

100 Years Apart

September to November 2013

A display of two young Hackney brides with their dresses, shoes, accessories and wedding photographs.

Found in the Attic

October to December 2013

1920s Red Cross posters found in the attics of the old Red Cross building on the corner of Graham Road and Dalston Lane.

Preposterous Postcards

10 September to 16 November 2013

A collection of over 2,500 art postcards created by patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries at Homerton Hospital.

Hackney Remembers

11 July to 14 September 2013

The story of how the First World War changed the lives of people in Hackney. Local volunteers prepared and catalogued a list of archive materials and school pupils delved into what really happened in Hackney during WW1. This project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

100 Images of Migration

11 June to 31 August 2013

This exhibition gave a glimpse of migration in and out of Britain over the last 100 years.

Being Mum, Being Dad: What is life really like with young children?

22 May to 31 August 2013

A brief snapshot of the life of a typical Hackney parent with family portraits, interviews and diaries as well as a film by a mother of four who captured the reality of the morning school run on camera.

I’ve Lived in East London for 85½ years: Photographs of Joseph Markovitch by Martin Usborne

April to July 2013

Photos of a long-lived Hackney resident taken in and around his home by close friend, photographer Martin Usborne.

Environmental sustainability in Hackney

5 February to 23 February 2013

Civil society organizations, local businesses, community arts groups, and concerned individuals were all equally represented in this exhibition by Colin Cafferty. Colin is a local resident, documentary photographer and founder of Climate Change Cafe.


Creative Journeys: Responses to mental health in Hackney, past and present

12 February to 25 May 2013

Painting, sculpture, conceptual art and music by people with severe and enduring mental health issues. The artists and musicians were supported along their creative journeys by Core Arts.

Resident Ghosts: Hackney’s earliest photographic portraits

13 February to 18 May 2013

Daguerreotypes of Hackney people from the 1840s, when photography was in its infancy, collected by Shaun Caton. Shaun also found over 2,000 glass plates in a cellar on the old Parochial School in Wilton Way. They belonged to a Victorian photographer called Arthur Eason who had a studio in Dalston Lane where he photographed a fascinating mix of East Londoners.


Stamford Hill Mods: The genesis of Marc Bolan

7 November 2012 to Saturday 26 January 2013

50 years ago the photographer Don McCullin took pictures of the 15 year old Mark Feld who went on to become Marc Bolan. This exhibition looked at early mod culture in Stamford Hill in the 1960s. It included memories from locals like the clothes they wore, the places they went to, the scooters they rode and their friendship, or not, with the young Mark Feld. The display included a 1962 two tone Vespa scooter personalised by Eddie Grimstead, the scooter dealer to all the mods in East London, as well original clothing, magazines and records of the time.


2 October 2012 to Saturday 26 January 2013

Tracing the story of the Caribbean islands from the days of the Arawaks and the Caribs, through to enslavement and abolition and the ending of British rule. This exhibition celebrated 50 years of independence for Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago.

Our Olympic Corner

29 May to 20 October 2012

The story of the Olympic and Paralympic Games from ancient Greece through to London 2012. Visitors could listen to 1948 Olympians’ memories, design their own 2012 Games poster, take part in physical and mental challenges, win a medal and stand on our special winners’ podium.

Mapping the Change

15 May 2012 to 15 September 2012

The culmination of 4 years’ work with hundreds of local people to record their responses to a changing Hackney, packed with a wealth of moving and revealing stories, images and histories of people from across the spectrum of Hackney’s communities. There were contributions from many Hackney based photographers and filmmakers, professional and amateur, older and younger, including Chris Dorley-Brown, Jenny Matthews, Colin O’Brien and Christian Sinibaldi.


The Artist’s Eye

A Mapping the Change exhibition of artists’ works in response to the changes in East London as a result of the 2012 Olympics. These ranged from artistic impressions of the Olympic site, to photos through peep holes on Hackney building sites. There was also an abstract piece about workers on the River Lea and a children’s animation film of Matchbox toys returning to their old factory.

Our African Roots

Explored how Hackney’s Africans, from youth to elders, keep and celebrate their own culture in the heart of our city. Featured possessions, stories, maps from the Royal Geographical Society and African objects from the Horniman Museum.

Through an Affectionate Lens

The story of boxing in the East End from the London Ex-Boxers Association. Visitors were able to find out about the Jewish and black boxers and the discrimination they met, read stories of East End boxing and see artefacts belonging to boxers such as John Kramer, George Merritt, Ron Cooper, Mickey Pye, Terry Baldock and Terry Spinks.


A wealth of images of cutting edge reggae musicians from Jamaica, America and London taken from 1970 to 2004 by the influential photographer Dennis Morris, exploring the roots of reggae, its journey from Africa to Jamaica and its influence on identity, fashion and music styles along with memories of local clubs and blues parties.

Behind the Mask

A touring exhibition from Glasgow’s Mask and Puppet Museum with an extraordinary array of masks from all over the world.

Growing Up Black

Commemorated the founding of the NHS in 1948. It set out to show what it meant to be ill, to have a baby or go to the dentist over the past 50 years in Hackney, and highlighted objects from the famous Red Cross building in Dalston Lane.

Games Exchange

People of all ages spent hours in this exhibition playing games from chess to shove ha’penny, from mahjong to oware, from jenga to Chinese chequers, building brick castles, solving riddles and fishing.

Living Under One Roof

Part of Black History Month, this exhibition celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival in Britain in 1948. With the help of Hackney’s Caribbean elders we re-created one room living in Hackney in the 1960s.

Spirit of Sport

A look back to the origins of the Olympic Games and forwards to the Games coming to Hackney in 2012, inspiring local children to get involved and keep fit. Visitors pedalled old fashioned exercise bikes, did the long jump across the Museum and stood on the winners’ podium with a gold medal.

Set Up Shop

Told from a Hackney shopkeeper’s point of view, this exhibition gave the visitor a rich ‘shopping’ experience. It celebrated the items from all over the world that you can buy in Hackney. They included Turkish baklava, Jamaican ackee fruit, Ghanaian Kente cloth, Nigerian yams, Polish pierogi and bottles of Vietnamese nuoc nam fish sauce.

Abolition ’07

Abolition ’07 commemorated the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Hackney Museum was one of the first museums to explore this subject and its contemporary legacy in 2007.

Out and About in Hackney

This exhibition showed all the ways that people get around Hackney, from the past to the future, from tram to bicycle. It coincided with the opening of the London Overground and looked forward to Hackney’s new stations on the new East London Line. Visitors could watch films inside a taxi and make suggestions for alternative names for underground stations.

Museum Masquerade

A glittering display of carnival costumes and masks from Hackney’s carnival bands.