The Maya & Manchester: Cultural Continuity in Central America

In 1981 Manchester Museum accepted a generous donation of  just under 300 objects from South and Central America on behalf of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Amongst the collection were parts of Manuel García Elgueta’s Mayan collection which Sir Henry Wellcome (1853 – 1936) had acquired.

Elgueta (b. 1846) was a pioneer of Mayan linguistics and archaeology, and simultaneously a politician, writer, and journalist. He collected extensively in the Huehuetenango region of northwestern Guatemala and his objects were displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, USA, and the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair, San Francisco, USA.

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Mayan head carved in stone, Classic period (250-900), Chalchitán, Guatemala

The stonework in the collection comes from the important pre-Hispanic Mayan site of Pichiquil, Guatemala, and dates to the Classic Maya period AD200 – 900.  Elgueta’s collection has been widely dispersed with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, USA, in possession of a very significant amount.

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Mayan ball court marker carved in stone, Classic period (250-900), Pichiquil, Guatemala

Elgueta studied the people and cultures of the Guatemalan highlands, specifically the K’iche’, in an attempt to demonstrate cultural continuity with the pre-Hispanic Maya. Today the K’iche’ continue to fight for indigenous rights and promote their Mayan heritage in Guatemala and beyond. To learn more about the history of the K’iche’ in the 1960s and 1970s visit the the University of New Mexico K’iche’ Maya Oral History Project. As part of the Wikitongues project you can also hear examples of  the K’iche’ Mayan language being spoken, such as this clip featuring Lorenzo:

 

 

 

 

 

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A South Asian Summer

Unbelievably it’s been almost a year since I last blogged! Since my entry in August 2016 I’ve been working on a number of exciting South Asia related projects, and had the opportunity to visit India.

In December 2016 I travelled to India with colleagues Menaka Munro, Learning Manager, and Dr Nick Merriman, Director. We met museum professionals, explored potential collaborations, and conducted research in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. The visit culminated in Kerala where we joined colleagues from Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds at the Kochi Biennial.

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Market, New Delhi, December 2016

The visit was part of our preparatory work for three exhibitions opening this summer, and a new gallery dedicated to the history and culture of South Asia opening in 2020. From mid-August onwards Manchester Museum will be brimming with South Asian art, culture and history:

  • Memories of Partition – A collaborative project documenting the collective memory of families in Manchester affected by the 1947 Partition of India into the independent nations of India, Pakistan, and subsequently Bangladesh in 1971. Opens to the public on August 15
  • Celebrating Ganesha – A temporary British Museum loan of a magnificent stone sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha dating to the thirteenth century. Opens to the public on September 2. Find out more here
  • Reena Saini Kallat – A solo art show featuring the work of contemporary Mumbai based artist Reena Saini Kallat. This show is part of the wider New North and South project. This show will open with a series of others at the Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery, and Manchester Museum of Science and Industry from September 29 onwards. Find out more here   

In some way each of these projects will contribute to the creation of the new gallery. The South Asia Gallery is being developed in partnership with the British Museum and Manchester’s diverse South Asian communities. It will explore the history and culture of South Asia from the earliest periods of human occupation to the modern day diaspora. The gallery is part of Manchester Museum’s wider Courtyard Project that will see an extended and revitalised museum opening in 2020. Find out more here.

Migration & Manchester Museum

Over the past several months I’ve been recording more films that focus on the role museums can play in better understanding migration. This is part of Manchester Museum’s thematic collecting project, a project that is seeking to revitalise museum collecting by centring it on immediate contemporary issues [http://bit.ly/16WpOEz]. The films feature University of Manchester students, both past and present, who are passionate about both migration and the changing nature of 21st century museums.

In this first film Benjamina Dadzie shares her thoughts with us about using museum collections and spaces to contend with challenging issues and stimulate conversation.

Islamic & South Asian Collections in Manchester

Since April Jenny Norton-Wright, Early Career Curator at Manchester Museum, has been exploring the Islamic and South Asian collections across Manchester Museum, the Whitworth, and Manchester City Galleries (http://bit.ly/1sYozk4). Jenny’s research is part of a wider project to better document these collections, make them more accessible, and up skill curators to work more closely with them. The long term goal is to use this research and development to produce an exhibition in the not too distant future. The project is being generously funded by the John Ellerman Foundation (http://bit.ly/1u7qJtV).

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Jenny Norton-Wright with Professor Tim Insoll, University of Manchester, and Dr Salman Almahari, Bahrain National Museum, discussing Manchester Museum’s Islamic collection [left]. Dr Salman was able to help identify a set of currency from Bahrain donated to Manchester Museum in 1926 [right].

The process of developing curatorial skills will include visits to sites of best practice in the UK and abroad, such as Birmingham Museum (http://bit.ly/14pvA0a) and Art Gallery or Museum für Islamische Kunst (http://bit.ly/1Wuul8Q). It will also include a series of workshops and an ambitious international conference. The first workshop, which we are currently planning, will take place this October and focus on key elements of Islamic and South Asian history and culture. The international conference will take place in late February 2017, it will feature speakers working on some of the most innovative Islamic and South Asian museum and gallery projects across the UK, Europe and further afield. Once plans are affirmed we’ll share them on the Manchester Museum website and other social media platforms.

Petra, Borders & Boundaries

This is the last film in my current thematic collecting and migration series, many thanks to Dr Petra Tjitske Kalshoven, lecturer in Social Anthropology at The University of Manchester, for participating.

In 2016 I’ll be back with more thematic collecting films!

Tracey, Manchester & Multiculturalism

Here’s my second Thematic Collecting short film featuring Tracey Zengeni. Tracey’s collaborated with Manchester Museum over several years on a multitude of projects and it was fascinating to hear her thoughts:

I’ve got one more film to share with you from this current series so watch this space!

Isabelle, Museums & Migration

As part of our Thematic Collecting project I’ve captured the thoughts and opinions of several of Manchester Museum’s collaborators. First up is Isabelle Cox:

Over the next few of days I’ll upload a couple more, watch this space!