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 ( 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 (


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 ( and Art Gallery or Museum für Islamische Kunst ( 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.

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.


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 ( The Study Twitter feed (

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 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.

Pre-emptive Spring Clean

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been beavering away in the Living Cultures stores with support from The University of Manchester Art Gallery and Museum Studies students Josh and Shelly, our British Museum Future Curator Kiera, and most critically our Curatorial Assistant Susan. We’ve been rationalising each store i.e. making more space available, and making sure that each object is stored appropriately. This is all part of the collections team drive to increase accessibility to our four million objects exponentially. Increasing access allows for further exploration of collections and means objects can be used to a greater extent in research, exhibitions and public events.

Kathryn inspecting our Igbo masquerade costume. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

Kathryn inspecting the Igbo masquerade costume. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

This drive has also allowed us to identify objects in need of immediate treatment. Our conservation interns Kathryn and Erin are currently treating a Qashqa’i saddle, Kiribati armour and an Igbo masquerade costume . These objects are being cleaned and further information regarding extent of use and construction is also being gleaned. This is all critical information which will be added to each of the object’s records.

Erin treating the Qashqa’i saddle. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

Erin treating the Qashqa’i saddle. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

The maintenance of collections is an ongoing curatorial duty and very much a team effort. The support of volunteers and colleagues alike in this endeavour is invaluable. Throughout 2014 this work will continue and I’m very much looking forward to Kiera starting her year-long placement with us in April. This week, however, Shelly, who has been instrumental in the transformation of the storage of the Americas collection, leaves us to return to the USA. I wish Shelly all the best for the future and thank her for all her hard work and dedication, I’m sure she has a glittering curatorial career ahead of her!