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!

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Getting a Grip: Students at Manchester Museum

Last week 100 University of Manchester first year archaeology students visited Manchester Museum for a series of world archaeology seminars. The students were invited into the Living Cultures storerooms where they handled a wide variety of objects ranging from Nazca ceramics to Mursi lip-plates. The objects spanned several millennia in age and originated from across Africa, Asia and the Americas. The seminars allowed students to develop the necessary skills to interrogate material culture and consider pursuing further object based research.

University of Manchester world archaeology seminar at Manchester Museum, 2014.

University of Manchester world archaeology seminar at Manchester Museum, 2014.

The seminars were organised with university colleague and long-time Manchester Museum collaborator Professor Tim Insoll. Tim regularly uses the African collection in his teaching and has also co-curated exhibitions including Fragmentary Ancestors: Figurines from Koma Land, Ghana http://bit.ly/1Dsqddo. Tim’s recently graduated PhD student Dr Bryn James also used the African collection, specifically the West African medical and ritual objects, in his doctoral research. The exhibition Exploring African Medicine which documents this research and his accompanying contemporary fieldwork in Accra, Ghana, is currently on display in the reception area.

Exploring African Medicine exhibition, Manchester Museum, 2014.

Exploring African Medicine exhibition, Manchester Museum, 2014.

As a university museum Manchester Museum is dedicated to providing access to our collections for student teaching and research. When the newly refurbished third floor of the museum opens in summer 2015 there’ll be a brand new state-of-the-art space dedicated to just that.

Travel the World Big Saturday: Guest Blog by Sajia Sultana

Travel the World Big Saturday was held on Saturday 2nd of August between 11am and 4pm. The day involved families travelling back in time and across the globe. Families enjoyed world music performances, met curators and saw objects from the museum’s collections and created musical shakers.

Here are the various music performances which were held during the day. Upon arrival families enjoyed Chinese music performances on traditional instruments, the Erhu and the Guzheng. This was performed by Henry Fung and Mei Mei Wu.

1Families then enjoyed African Storytelling with Chanje Kunda from Zambia. The stories included fables which illustrated to the children how to stay safe. The children also played with African toys and fabrics.

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Our journey continued to Northern India with Kanchan Maradan who performed the Kathak dance. The word Kathak is derived from ‘Katha’ meaning the ‘the art of storytelling’.

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In the afternoon families travelled to Iran with Arian Sadr to enjoy Iranian Frame Drumming.

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At the end of the journey families had a chance to participate in the traditional Chinese Fan Dance (which resembles a field of butterflies) with Mei-Mei Wu.

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You can see some of the performances in the film below:

Children and adults were asked to describe their day at Manchester Museum in one word. Here are their comments:

‘Splendid’ ‘Amazing’ ’Interactive’ ‘Interesting’ ‘Educational’ ’Extraordinary’ Excellent’ ’Brilliant’ ‘Illuminating’ ’Exciting’ ‘Fascinating’ ‘Inspiring’ ’Great’

Visit the following link to find out more about Big Saturday:

http://ancientworldsmanchester.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/easter-island-at-manchester-museum/

Visit our page on Facebook Global Explorer:

https://www.facebook.com/GlobalExplorersmm

Sajia Sultana is a Summer Public Programmes Intern at Manchester Museum and a University of Manchester student.

Exhibiting Concepts, Experiencing Meanings

I’ve just joined Manchester Museum as Trainee Curator in Anthropology as part of the Future Curators programme at the British Museum. A couple of weeks ago, Stephen Welsh and I attended a symposium at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, organised to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The symposium was entitled ‘Exhibiting Concepts, Experiencing Meanings: Current and future curatorial challenges’. The programme brought together curators and academics from across the world to discuss the intellectual and practical challenges which surround exhibition making with ethnographic collections. There were many fascinating papers, but here I’m going to highlight just a few of the projects discussed.

In a session entitled ‘Experiencing exhibitions ‘at home’ and abroad’, Gaye Sculthorpe, Section Head for Oceania at the British Museum spoke about the project she is currently working on to develop exhibitions about Indigenous Australia to be shown in London and Canberra in 2015. The major temporary exhibition at the British Museum will be an outcome of a five year research project which has sought to engage indigenous communities across Australia. Many of the objects will then travel to the National Museum of Australia for a related exhibition. Gaye spoke of the intense emotional reactions she’d witnessed from indigenous visitors when faced with objects which represent the contentious history of Australia.

This shield was collected in Australia when Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay in 1770. It represents the first contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians and will return to Australia in 2015 for the first time since it was collected as part of a loan from the collection of the British Museum. This is likely to have a huge emotional impact on Indigenous audiences for the exhibitions in London and Canberra.

The emotional power of objects was also addressed by Noelle Kahuna who spoke about the loan of Kū figures to the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. This was the first time in over 150 years that three monumental carvings of the god Kū had come together. The carvings from the collections of the British Museum in London, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and the Bishop Museum are thought to be the last remaining examples of this quality and size in the world. Kū is a god known is several Pacific cultures associated with procreation, prosperity and warfare. In this exhibit, the lenders agreed that the objects could be dressed in loincloths called a malo, honouring traditional beliefs and acknowledging the power of museums to explore issues of cultural identity.

The three Ku figues on display at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Hawaii in 2010.

Many speakers addressed the need for exhibitions to be more than geographical or typological arrangements of objects, and suggested ways that displays could use concepts drawn from indigenous cultures. Aristoteles Barcelos-Neto spoke of how a new framework had been developed for Amerindian studies which contributed to a change in anthropological approach. His ethnographic film about the Amazon’s Wauja community made in 2007 shows atujuwa masks, the manufacture of which was revived as a cultural practice in 1997. Fourteen masks have been made to go into private collections in Paris and Lisbon, as they would not exist for long in the humid rainforest climate. Exhibitions of the masks were developed around the Wauja concept of apapaatai, which are spirits thought to cause illness. This type of illness will not kill but can only be cured by a shaman, and once cured allows the person to take on the power and protection of that spirit.

The range of papers presented across the three day symposium was vast, and raised many questions which will require further thought going into the future. In the opening remarks, it was suggested that anthropological museums need to begin to address environmental issues as these concerns are of particular relevance to many indigenous communities as well as to the wider world. While climate change and deforestation have been easily incorporated into displays within museums of natural history or science, these issues are yet to be tackled in ethnographic museums. This theme was not revisited for discussion during the symposium, but presents an interesting challenge to curators: in a time where many institutions do not have the capacity to continue collecting contemporary objects and need to make our historical collections relevant, how can we use them to provoke discussion around environmental concerns?

Several speakers also discussed the role of the curator – as a guardian for collections, but also as a translator, to let people know what they’re looking at and why they should want to look at it. Do they also have the responsibility to ask questions and provoke reactions?

Coast to Coast: African Music Across the Atlantic

This weekend, whilst conveniently ignoring the impending arrival of Christmas,  I’m hoping to get the opportunity to visit Urbis and take a look at their exhibition Home Grown: The Story of UK Hip Hop. As many of you know I’m a massive fan of African music, particularly of the Blues variety, and during my time at the International Slavery Museum I produced an interactive exhibition called Black Music Soul Power which mapped African musical traditions throughout the Diaspora. I am fascinated with the transatlantic exchange of music particularly in modern history, none more so then when African-American artists travelled to Africa in the 1970s to explore their ancestry. This exchange  inevitably impacted on the music scenes of the countries the artists visited but they found themselves incorporating African elements into their own work also. The video below documents the Godfather of Soul James Brown’s visit to Senegal in the 1970s.

I must admit that I’m pretty much tone-deaf myself and didn’t inherit my father’s accomplished Spanish  guitar skills, but musical traditions and styles interest me not simply for their musicological merits but as vehicles of cultural continuity and transformation, resistance, expression and tradition. Hip Hop, as the global phenomenon it has now become, incorporates all of the above, and none more so than in the work of MC Baloji. Baloji is a Belgian rapper with Congolese roots and his music culturally combines US Hip Hop with Congolese rhythms. His music is a great example of continuing traditions embracing elements of relatively new practises whilst at the same time acting as a platform for cultural and political expression.

The Living Cultures collection has an interesting selection of African, specifically west African, musical instruments, most of which are percussive such as drums. There is also other culturally significant material associated with the performance of music such as masks used in religious, civic and masquerade events, some of which can be seen in the Living Cultures gallery.

Nigerian drum, 1850-1890, Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2010.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures