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.

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!

Curious About the Congo? The Study’s the Place to Be

On 11th September 2015 Manchester Museum opens it’s dynamic new space The Study. The Study will provide stimulating surroundings and resources for users ranging from hobbyists to academics to explore and be inspired by the museum’s encyclopaedic collections. Part of this new space is a temporary exhibition gallery.

The Study

The inaugural exhibition for The Study’s gallery is The Phantoms of Congo River: Photographs by Nyaba Ouedraogo. Nyaba is an internationally renowned photographer and previously exhibited work in Manchester at Manchester Art Gallery in 2012 during the season of West African art called We Face Forward. This exhibition is Nyaba’s response to Joseph Conrad’s infamous 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. The text raises challenging questions about 19th century colonialism and racism in Africa, questions that Nyaba confronts in his work.  The curiosity and critique embedded in Nyaba’s work is the kind of new thinking The Study aims to facilitate and encourage.

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On display will be 13 of Nyaba’s most powerful prints accompanied by stunning objects from the Living Culture’s collection. You’ll be able to peruse the full series of prints in Nyaba’s catalogue which will be publicly available in the Discover area of The Study. We’ll also have copies of Heart of Darkness in the Share area. From 11th September onwards there’ll be an exciting series of events across The Study, including those related to the Congo, so keep up to date at the Manchester Museum website (http://bit.ly/1AuFKXTand The Study Twitter feed (http://bit.ly/1INaiY2).

Student Engagement with the Living Cultures Collection

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Students from the East Asian Studies programme explore highlight objects from the Museum’s Chinese collections led by Stephen Welsh, Curator of Living Cultures and Dr Pierre Fuller, Lecturer in East Asian History

Students are introduced to the Museum’s collections as part of formal teaching programmes in several different departments across the university. Our curators and conservators deliver teaching on many courses, both in the classroom and in the museum itself. In recent visits to the Living Cultures stores from students on the Archaeology, Social Anthropology and East Asian Studies courses, we have aimed to inspire students to carry out research using the collections. There are many objects in the collections which would make fascinating topics for original research, as we only know a very small amount about their histories.

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Christian Pollard, (pictured, left), visited the Anthropology Collection stores as part of a seminar for the East Asian Studies programme in December 2014:

“We got to see some really interesting artefacts enhanced by having the curator there to guide us through the objects. It was certainly a worthwhile trip for anyone who is simply interested in finding out more about history or for someone thinking about a dissertation topic in need of an interesting, and maybe even unstudied, artefact.

Thank you very much for having us, I really enjoyed being able to get a look at something physical as opposed to documents.”

Students also engage with the museum collections through work placements, volunteering or as part of extra-curricular societies. Recently, I was asked to run a workshop for ArchSoc, the University of Manchester’s Archaeology Society, to introduce cataloguing and collections management to a small group of undergraduate students from across three year groups. As well as showing the group a small section of our stores ‘behind the scenes’, I also gave them the chance to have a go at writing a simple catalogue record for an object. This allowed us to discuss the importance of recording context and provenance, and of effective collections management in the museum setting.

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Students from the University of Mancheser’s Archaeology Society have a go at cataloguing using objects in the collection

There are many ways in which the work of the Museum overlaps and collaborates with its academic colleagues in other departments in the University; from showcasing research through the temporary exhibition programme, to hosting talks, conferences and events. Our collections include field collections from Manchester’s academics and students, and are informed by their research. We aim to engage and inspire students wherever possible, showing that there are many different ways to use the collections, and many relevant contemporary conversations to be had around our historic objects.