Last week over 300 UK museums joined forces on Twitter to celebrate Museums Week. It was a roaring success with innumerable museum experiences, challenges, memories, selfies and questions flooding Twitter. I found one particular question I was asked both stimulating and challenging in equal measure:
As a curator I am constantly inspired by the objects and people I work with, and this in turn stimulates countless exhibition ideas. To pick any single exhibition idea would be like testifying to having a single object of interest, impossible! However, over the past several months I have found myself increasingly intrigued by an ethnographic aesthetic embedded in popular music videos. This aesthetic is one based on a popular understanding of ethnic, namely tribal and non-western. My answer therefore was an exhibition on this very phenomenon, and included a link to this sublime video:
Acapella was directed by British team photographer John Waddell and musical director Chris Cottam. Kelis assumes the role of a variegated matriarch lambent in bead, feather, and face-paint as she straddles rainforest and desert with mesmerising ferocity. This is one of a pantheon of contemporary music videos to indulge ethnographically:
Of course this is nothing new, popular culture has for generations consumed and reconstructed the ethnographic in film, fashion and music. There does, however, seem to be a yearning, maybe a as consequence of increasing globalisation, for an escape to a 21st century imagined ethnographic simplicity. Around the world people are increasingly trying to reconnect culturally, whether it’s Mexicans and their Aztec ancestors or Britons and Druids. In this pursuit both music videos and museums play an extraordinarily influential role, both tangibly and intangibly.
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).