Museodramatic

If you’re looking for something to do this Friday evening do consider our After Hours: Warriors of the Plains event which starts at 6:30pm. For more information visit http://bit.ly/18J1Tpx

During the event the Mustard Tree Drama Group will perform their play Home Is Where The Heart Is? and playwright and poet Anjum Malik will perform her monologue The Lost Salford Sioux. Both works have been inspired by the Warriors of the Plains exhibition and historic connections between Native North Americans and Greater Manchester. Any such dramatisations can be accused of lacking historicity, as Jane McGrath writes in relation to the historical dramas ‘Professional film reviewers are tame compared to the wrath of nit-picking historian’ http://bit.ly/OeHx0h

A performance of This Accursed Thing at Manchester Museum. The piece dramatised Manchester's role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Taken in 2007.

A performance of This Accursed Thing at Manchester Museum. The piece dramatised Manchester’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Taken in 2007.

As a curator I could easily be accused of nit-picking but working with performers and writers provides an invaluable opportunity to introduce both emotion and experience. Tonight’s performers conducted extensive research and became thoroughly enthralled by Native North American history and culture. Combining this with their own experiences of change and continuity has produced truly captivating and sensitive pieces.

At Manchester Museum we’re always looking for innovative ways to further understanding between cultures. Drama, poetry and performance are invaluable tools in this endeavour.

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From Alaska to Aunty

The BBC have recently uploaded a fascinating episode of the popular material culture series Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? filmed at Manchester Museum in 1954.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p017gczq/

A panel of experts, including the unmistakable archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890 – 1976), are shown debating the function and origin of seemingly unfamiliar objects. Pooling their collective intellect they attempt to identify a selection of objects from Manchester Museum’s collection. First to be scrutinised is a Yup’ik finger mask from Alaska in the Living Cultures collection, which is described as resembling a 1950s microphone. The round face within a surrounding circle which prompts this comparison is a device used by the Yup’ik to represent the cosmos.

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Yup’ik finger mask. Wood. Alaska, USA. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

Yup’ik women use these masks, which can represent a variety of spirits or mythical creatures, during dances to further articulate the all important hand movements. The following film shows just how important hand movements are in traditional Yup’ik dance.

Cultural Contumacy?

Over the past several days the media has been awash with theories which claim to identify the cause of the recent English riots. One of the most controversial theories, as confidentially articulated  by historian David Starkey, is that so-called Black culture is to blame. Starkey’s comments have reignited a national debate on the relationship between race and culture.

19th century anthropologists viewed culture as a static phenomenon attributed to particular racial groups. Crude notions of cultural sophistication were developed which seemingly proved the superiority of European culture. Objects like those in the Living Cultures collection were used to demonstrate the assumed primitive nature of non-European cultures, particularly those in Africa. This cultural primitivism was believed to have caused moral impoverishment, the jingoistic remedy for which was colonial intervention.

British officers meeting with the Sobo people, Nigeria, Africa, late 19th century. The Living Cultures collection, the Manchester Museum.

Shockingly the idea that African and Black culture is somehow negative is still perpetuated. So too is the absurd notion that culture is inextricably linked with race and cannot transcend it. Over several decades individuals, communities and organisations, such as the Manchester Museum, have worked tirelessly to confront and extinguish these myths.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures