In 2013 Arts Council England decided to support a new Subject Specialist Network (SSN) for museum professionals responsible for collections of Islamic art and material culture in the UK. A lot has happened since this decision including several SSN meetings, the appointment of regional representatives (I’m the North West representative), a study day at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the dissemination of a survey to identify where and what Islamic collections exist in the UK.
Rebecca Bridgman is Birmingham Museum Trust’s first specialist Curator of Islamic and South Asian Art, and chair of the SSN.
If you’re a museum professional reading this you may have already received aforementioned survey from the SSN project researcher Jenny Wright. This survey provides a unique opportunity to map the extent of Islamic collections in the UK for the very first time. It will also help determine what support museum professionals need in the curation of Islamic collections. If you need any assistance in completing it you can always contact Jenny or the nearest SSN regional representative, for further details please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Late April 2014 is the deadline for completion and return.
Kate Newnham is Senior Collections Officer, Visual Arts, at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, UK. She has curated Bristol’s Asian and Islamic collection for eleven years. She is the SSN South West representative.
It’ll be a busy year ahead for the SSN as the survey results are compiled, further study days and an annual conference are developed, and a website is designed. To keep up to date with events, opportunities and developments join the Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/1g4sKMU) and Twitter feed (http://bit.ly/1fVka6O).
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at the Museum of World Cultures (MWC) in Gothenburg, Sweden (http://bit.ly/HUHAvr). I last visited the museum back in 2006 in a previous incarnation as Project Curator at the International Slavery Museum (http://bit.ly/izKSQ). This most recent visit was the culmination of my participation in the British Museum Fresh Leads project which was funded by Arts Council England. You can find out more about Fresh Leads in the British Museum’s 2012/13 UK partnership review.
I was drawn back to MWC after hearing about their latest exhibition Secret Love. This contemporary art exhibition about LGBT experience and culture in China was equally as cutting edge as those I’d seen back in 2006 such as No Name Fever. Both content and design were inimitably MWC – uncompromising, raw, and most of all bold. This boldness suffused their associated public programme too. Working intimately with West Pride (http://bit.ly/1dMECUq) performances and events included Prejudice and Pride – The Norms of Functionality and Sexuality,What Happens in Russia and Why?, and Being Deaf and Gay. MWC headed this programme schedule with the refreshingly direct title West Pride – This Happens at the Museum.
Secret Love. Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden. 2013.
Such intrepidness has allowed MWC to position itself as an internationally renowned site of critical museological discourse. It eloquently combines the local Gothenburg radical politico-cultural scene, not entirely dissimilar from Manchester, with the universal narratives encompassed by globalisation. The impermanence of each gallery and the unrivalled exhibition turnover rate has kept WMC enviably current. However, its latest project is a departure from the temporary as the core ethnographic collection will be permanently displayed en masse on site. For a discursive museum more familiar with concept than object this is a challenge. In playful WMC style creative solutions are being explored in the Test Room where ethnographic curatorial orthodoxies are re-imagined and objects scrutinised.
Test Room. Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden. 2013.
Relocating a traditional ethnographic collection at the heart of such a dynamic and reflexive institution has spectacular potential. Just as the recent re-displays at Manchester Museum have proved, with the right combination of ideas, ambition and collaboration, object centred projects can be transformational. Following my many conversations with Swedish colleagues last week I’m convinced that the results will be tantalisingly distinct and unmistakably WMC.