I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria📍The British Museum

Hi all, happy Friday!

Today I want to highlight a very special exhibition that is currently on display at my former workplace, The British Museum. When I worked there last year I was lucky enough to meet with Carine Harmand, the wonderful Project Curator of the current I am Ashurbanipal exhibition. She introduced me to the history of Assyria and King Ashurbanipal as well as talking me through the objects and key narratives that would be included in the exhibition. The plans were so exciting that I knew it would be a success and I definitely was not disappointed!

Displayed in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30), I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria explores the life of King Ashurbanipal who was at one stage, the most powerful man on the planet. He ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the largest empire in the world, between 669–c.631 BC. The first artefacts we are introduced to are a set of Assyrian palace reliefs known as the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal which would have decorated his North Palace in Nineveh (now modern day Mosul). The reliefs depict the King participating in the royal sport of lion hunting. The intricate stone works represent the King killing ferocious lions which serve as a reflection of his heroic, strong and vivacious leadership.

Underneath the reliefs, the scenes have been enlarged and interpreted so that visitors can get a better understanding about what is happening in each scene. In addition, there are ‘Family Labels’ that use simpler language to pose questions and set out activities for younger visitors. Both are a great example of how to include interpretation for a range of audiences to support engagement and understanding.

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Another fundamental part of the exhibition is the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal which consists of approximately 30,000 cuneiform tablets including letters, literature and medicine records. Included in the Library collection is the Epic of Gilgamesh – an epic poem from Mesopotamia which is regarded as the earliest great work of literature. The poem, c.680 – 630 BC, was discovered in Nineveh by excavator Sir Austen Henry Layard’s assistant, Hormuzd Rassam.

Finally, my absolute favourite part of the exhibition has to be the use of colour and lighting to bring the Assyrian reliefs to life. The addition of both enables visitors to see what reliefs would have looked like in the past and it was absolutely SPECTACULAR! When hearing about this during the planning stages I was intrigued about how this would turn out in reality as I’d never seen this kind of technique used before. But my goodness, did was it a triumph!

Above, you can see how lighting and colour was utilised to highlight where canals and aqueducts, forests and palaces are presented in the relief. The use of authentic colours means that the artwork underneath isn’t detracted from at all; instead it helped me to see more of the intricate details than I had beforehand.

Similarly, the use of lighting and projected text really brings the story of Ashurbanipal and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin to life. Their sibling rivalry is a complex narrative to grasp, especially for someone like me who has very little knowledge of  but through this interactive display, the battle between the rulers of Assyria & Babylon is explored and explained in an engaging & more manageable way. The exceptional use of technology is one which I would love to see used in future exhibitions (budget permitting of course!)

You only have 9 days left to see this spectacular exhibition at the British Museum (note: you can get 50% exhibitions if you buy/have a National Art Pass) so hurry! From the lighting and interpretation to the choice of artefacts and inclusion fo the British Musuem’s Iraq SchemeI am Ashurbanipal is more fantastic than I could’ve imagined. Congratulations to Carine and everyone involved in putting together such an immersive, engaging and inspiring exhibition – the best I’ve seen in a very long time!

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

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📍Charles Bridge Museum, Prague

Ahoj, greetings from the Charles Bridge Museum!

This small, local history museum is located in the Baroque building of the Military Order of the Crusaders of the Red Star which was established by Saint Agnes of Bohemia in 1252. The Crusaders have been the keepers of the bridge since time immemorial.

Construction of the Charles Bridge began at 5:31am on 9th July 1357 – according to Czech legend, Charles IV laid the Bridge’s first stone himself! The start time of the construction was hugely significant to the Holy Roman Emperor as he was a strong believer in numerology. The specific time/date: 1357 9, 7 5:31 forms what is known as a palindrome – a word, number or phrase which reads the same backward as it does forward. This, according to believers, made the Bridge a ‘numerical bridge’ which would instill it with more strength. The numbers can be seen above the museum’s entry sign:

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An array of different materials have been used to reconstruct the bridge over the years after the Bridge has been damaged or wrecked by conflict and natural disasters. Displays in the museum showcase scaled down examples of the layers which include sandstone, cemented stone, granite pavement and waterproofing components.

On the upper floor there are recreated scenes showcasing scenes of the Bridge’s construction. Whilst under ground, a large segmented reconstruction the bridge gives a better understanding about the scale of the Gothic bridge and its layered materials.

Alongside these displays, the museum exhibits some beautiful local history artefacts. My favourites are a painted sculpture of Saint John of Nepomuk and a processional sun monstrance.

Left: John of Nepomuk (c. 1345 – 20th March 1393), Saint of the Czech Republic was drowned in the Vltava River after he refused to divulge the secrets of the Queen of Bohemia’s that she revealed in confessionals. Because of the nature of his death, John of Nepomuk is known as the protector from floods and drowning.  Right: A processional sun monstrance with an embossed depiction of St. Barbora, 2nd half of the 18th century.

Although small, this museum gives a great insight into the famous Charles Bridge and its history. I would also recommend taking a River Cruise from underneath the Museum to spend an hour taking in the beautiful views of the Vltava River.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

Ladies of Quality and Distinction📍Foundling Museum, London

Hey all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you had a wonderful festive season and are enjoying your 2019 so far.

This week I visited the magnificent Ladies of Quality & Distinction exhibition at the fantastic Foundling Museum in London. The exhibition, part of a vast programme of displays marking 100 years of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918 in the UK, reveals stories about the incredible women that established, worked at and lived in the hospital. Like much of history, the role of women has been excluded from the Hospital’s narratives, until now. The exhibition, curated by Kathleen Palmer, highlights the vital role that women played as nurses, teachers, cooks, artists, carers and supporters of the institution.

Highlight objects and stories:

1. ) Frances Flint (1839? – 1944?)

Frances Flint was, according to the 1891 census records, a foster mother who took care of some of the children from the Foundling Hospital. Records also suggest that Frances may have been illegitimate, much like the foundling children she fostered. This photograph shows Frances with children, may be some of those that she had in her care.

fullsizeoutput_d19Frances Flint, archive photograph, c.1900, courtesy Coram.

2.) Servant’s register, 1925

This servant’s register records the reasons that staff at the Hospital gave for leaving. It also includes brief descriptions of the work the women carried out in their roles. This kind of register would have been used to give character references for new jobs.

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3.) Instructions to Wet Nurses, 1861

Jane Fisher was given these notes when she took foundling, John Harvey, into her care in 1861. It sets out the allowance that Fisher will be issued to look after the child as well as outlining the expectations of the Inspector.

fgxtebcgq62jc6usfe+dzqInstructions to Wet Nurses, 4th February 1861, Coram/City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

4.) Letter written by Hannah Johnson, 1812

On 1st April 1812, as she entered her 20th year of service as the Foundling Hospital, Hannah Johnson wrote to the Governors of the Hospital requesting a (well deserved) pay rise. She was successful and her wages were increased to match those of the Steward, who headed the Boy’s Wing.

mkhhszwtqi+n7s8glxnclqLetter, Hannah Johnson, 1st April 1812, © Coram

5.) Blanche Thetford (1758 – 1833)

Blanche Thetford lived at Foundling Hospital and although she was “incurably blind in both eyes” she was incredibly talented in needlework. Whilst at the Hospital she trained in music alongside another blind girl named Mercy Draper and became an incredibly talented musician. Aged 21, the Hospital employed Blanche as a singer in the Chapel, paying her 6 guineas a year to do so. As well as being a singer, she was given 10 guineas a year for “the care and assiduity of teaching music” to younger foundlings. In 1813, she was gifted £25 (the equivalent of £1,721.93 in 2019), on top of a silver teapot for her teaching work. Blanche lived at the Foundling Hospital her whole life and when she died in 1833, aged 77, she was buried in the Hospital’s Chapel.

fullsizeoutput_d2cFoundling Hospital: The Chapel, 1808, John Bluck, after Pugin & Rowlandson. Aquatint, hand-coloured.

The exhibition shines a light on some of the marvellous, hard working and life changing women who played a vital role in the running of the Foundling Hospital and the care of the children living there between 1741 – 1951. It closes on the 20th January so you only have a few more days to view it so hurry if you don’t want to miss out on these stories.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

 

Museum Detox Christmas meet up 📍British Museum, London

Happy Friday all!

Earlier this year I became a member of Museum Detox – a BAME network for Museum and Heritage professionals which aims to utilise radical approaches to challenge and ultimately dismantle the injustices within cultural organisations around the UK.

Our Alternative Christmas meet up at the British Museum was very exciting as we were treated to a special behind the scenes tour of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery by fellow Detox member Dr Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator: South Asia. Alongside Sushma were her wonderful colleagues Yi Chen, Curator: Early Chinese Collections and Yu-Ping Luk, Basil Gray Curator: Chinese Paintings Prints and Central Asia. Last October, whilst I was a Fundraising Trainee at the British Museum, I assisted with various VIP events, one of which was the reopening of the Hotung Gallery by Her Majesty The Queen so being back here was full of fond memories.

The evening began with an introduction to the gallery by Jane Portal, Keeper of Asia, who gave us a great introduction to the space and why certain decisions for the new gallery were made. Jane explained that the rotunda in the centre of the gallery is often treated as a “meeting place” so this gave a central point to work from in the redevelopment. From this, curators decided to split the gallery in two – with the left hand side exhibiting South Asia (blue panels) and the right hand side displaying China (red panels).

The gallery, which is as long as a football pitch, is filled with listed mahogany cases which could not be removed or replaced. So, as museums so often do – the staff worked with what they had and utilised the space as best they could. In each bay there are “gateway objects” which give visitors an overview of what is included in each set of cases. I personally love this idea as it allows visitors to gain an understanding of the overarching theme and context without needing to access all of the objects (which is always good when you’re in a place as large as the BM and you don’t have the time or inclination to read every text panel or look at every artefact!)

Next up, Sushma gave us a tour of the South Asia displays which showcase South Asian history from 1.5 million years ago to the present day. She explained that one of the key narratives she was keen to explore in the redesign was the longstanding connections that South Asia has had with other parts of the world since c.2-3000 BC. The objects that Dr Jansari chose to highlight for us were particularly special and explored themes including religion, trade, politics, women suffrage and culture. Below are an example of the objects we were introduced to:

Left: Greek god Herakles (4 BC) – found in Afghanistan (1892,1104.61) Right: Sabre, handle and guard. Blade damascened in gold Koftgari work with a tiger and a tiger-stripe, Quranic inscription on back, Srirangapatna (1878,1101.450) Bottom: Gilded silver pepper pot in form of a recumbent ibex, damaged (1994,0408.35/AN186370001 Hoxne Hoard, Suffolk. Image from British Museum Collection Online)

Next, Yi Chen introduced us to the China section of the Hotung Gallery. She highlighted some beautiful Chinese cherish vessels found in northern central China; many of which would have originally been used to offer food and drinks at ceremonies. The vessels are passed down through generations with inscriptions inside documenting family history.  The curators decided to showcase the inscriptions on text panels underneath the objects and although this may seem like a simple addition, I think it’s such a thoughtful and effective for the Museum’s international visitors (who make up 70% of the gallery’s visitors) and those with a Chinese heritage.

Above: Cherish vessels including 1983,0420.1, 1939,0522.2, 1947,0712.419 and 1966,0223.4

To finish off this special tour, Curator Yu-Ping Luk chose some beautiful art pieces to explore with us. She showed us some Chinese paintings and manuscripts that had been found and excavated from a cave in northwest China at the beginning of the 20thcentury. The artefacts were perfectly preserved due to the conditions in the cave can now be displayed  Yu-Ping Luk also highlighted a temple wall painting entitled “Three Bodhisattvas”. Donated in 1927, the wall painting was preserved at the British Museum and is now displayed in the new gallery for visitors to admire.

Above: Three Bodhisattvas, temple wall painting from Hebei, Xingdang xian (1927,0518,0.8)

The last piece we were shown was an example of contemporary collecting; a topic that has been very prominent in museum conversations this year. Peacock, 2012 (2013,3005.1) by Caroline Yi Cheng is a ceramic sculpture in the form of a linen robe, covered in intricate ‘peacock blue’ coloured porcelain butterflies.

The curators answered questions regarding access, colonisation and using technology within displays which all opened up conversations about how museum organisations make decisions about audience engagement, object repatriation and modernisation. I hope to continue discussing these in the future with Museum Detox members and other sector professionals fighting for change.

Keep fighting the good fight and happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

Masterpieces of Taxidermy 📍Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Hi all,

There are lots of fantastic museums around the magnificent capital of Germany; particularly in Museum Island. But if you venture about 20 minutes outside of MuseumInsel, you will find Museum für Naturkunde. The Museum is integrated within the Leibniz Association – famously one of the most important research institutions in the world for biological and geological evolution and biodiversity. Over 800,000 visitors get to experience the wonder of this spectacular natural history museum and I feel very lucky to have visited this year. Natural History collections are my absolute favourites because I love seeing how nature has developed throughout history, the similarities and differences between species and the ways that biology, geology and taxonomy can be explored in museums.

My favourite gallery by far was named “Masterpieces of Taxidermy”; where unique specimens are displayed and the museum gives a great insight into the inner workings of a natural history museum. The gallery displayed a huge range of taxidermy specimens alongside highlights of preparation cases which showcased how different species are prepared for display or storage. The Museum für Naturkunde is a leader in the field of taxidermy preparation with professionals at the museum developing innovative methods, sharing best practice through workshops and setting high standards for other institutions.

The gallery, as the name suggests, exhibits examples of masterful taxidermy prepared in Berlin. Bobby the Gorilla who had died at Berlin Zoo in 1935 is still regarded one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Prepared by German taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder, Bobby is still a highlight specimen for visitors 80 years on!

Another spectacular display is the model of a Dodo, an extinct flightless bird that was native to the island of Mauritius. Taxidermists’ used biological model building to reconstruct the Dodo, a technique traditionally used specifically for extinct species. The model was created by Karl Kästner in 1949 who used basic information collected from other skeletons, observations and drawings to recreate the realistic model. The body was  created using clay and plaster whilst the feathers were a mixture of chicken, duck, sawn and ostrich feathers.

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Personally, my favourite set of displays explored the preparation of a Dickhornschaf: a Bighorned Sheep. The cases showed the full process from reconstruction and stuffing to design, make-up and display:

I think its really important for museums to be as open, transparent and educational in every aspect that we can. Opening up access through displays and interpretation enables visitors to gain a better understanding into museum practice and the activities involved in running the spaces they come to visit. When we visit museums I think it is usual to absorb what is on display without really thinking in depth about how displays have been curated, how taxidermy artefacts are preserved and the work that goes on behind the scenes. “Masterpieces of Taxidermy” really opens up the field of taxidermy and gives a world class insight into how natural history specimens are prepared for our learning and entertainment. The gallery is a real showstopper in this marvellous Natural History Museum.

My next blog post will explore some of my object highlights from the Museum so keep an eye out!

Until next time, happy museum musings!

Em xo

📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament pt. 2

Hi all, happy Friday!

A few weeks back I shared a post about my BTS visit to Vote and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition at Westminster Palace, London. It was really fascinating and for me, made a real change to the stereotypical displays that have been curated to celebrate the 100 years of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women the right to vote in the UK. Many of the exhibitions I have visited have focused on the ‘popular’ suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davidson; displaying the same medals, banners and badges time and again. Whilst Vote and Vote did acknowledge these women and exhibit some similar objects, the curators were blessed with having the Parliamentary Archives to work from meaning a different set of political activists, specialist objects and original stories could be showcased which I was very relieved about!

Favourite objects:

The Great Pilgrimage was one of the largest peaceful suffrage demonstrations, with 50,000 women attending the rally in Hyde Park, London. This map shows routes taken by ‘pilgrims’ travelling across the country to London.

fullsizeoutput_aafThe Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, July 1913. LSE Libray, 10/54/097.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. Astor chose this plain outfit, similar to a man’s suit, for the HOC so that she would be judged by what she said and not what she wore.

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Nancy Astor’s Parliamentary Suit, 1919. Wool cloth suit (jacket and skirt), silk blouse and matching hat. (On loan from Plymouth City Council, Museum Galleries Archive).

On 28th October 1908, suffragettes from the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) visited the Ladies’ Gallery whilst male MP’s were discussing women’s suffrage.  Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves to grilles. A third woman, Violet Tillard lowered the ‘proclamation’ banner through the grilles so it could be seen in the chamber. Male suffragettes threw leaflets form their gallery. Matters and Fox couldn’t easily be unchained so the grilles were removed with them still attached. Alongside the banner were a metal grille and bolt clippers that were related to protests that day. A purchase order for the bolt clipper’s stated “In 1908, a “Porter’s easy bolt clipper” was obtained through H.M Office of Works to cut the chains with which the suffragettes might secure themselves to portions of the building”.

Left: Proclamation Banner, 28th October 1908. The Women’s Freedom League ‘proclamation’ was written by WFL founder Teresa Billington Greig. Copies were pasted up all over London. This one was pasted onto cloth and mounted on sticks for use in the Ladies’ Gallery protest. Parliamentary Archives: HC/SA/SJ/3/1

Favourite suffragette stories:

The exhibition told stories about suffragettes that have often been left out of suffrage narratives, highlighting women that contributed majorly to the fight for the vote but didn’t have the forename Emily or surname Pankhurst!

  • Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh was one of several South Asian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. She played a major role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, as well as being heavily involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union. Although Sophia’s primary focus as a British subject and goddaughter of Queen Victoria was women’s rights in England, she and her fellow suffragettes also promoted similar activities in the colonies. She was proud of her Indian heritage, but was not bound by allegiance to a single nation and sought to support the women’s cause in a number of countries.

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  • Paralysed from the waist down caused by contracting polio as a chid, Rosa May Billinghurst was a disabled suffragette who famously campaigned and protested in her hand tricycle; earning her the nickname ‘cripple suffragette’. She was involved in many of the protests lead by the WSPU and founded the Greenwich branch of the Party in 1910. As its first secretary she took part in the ‘Black Friday‘ demonstrations. Her disability did not hold her back, nor did it hold back the male police officers. They would often throw her out of her tricycle, leaving her on the ground, unable to get up. Throughout her activism, Rosa was sent to prison three times & force fed by prison guards like many other suffragettes.

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Favourite quotes:

I was so incredibly happy and inspired by this exhibition as it gave a refreshing insight into the suffrage movement; exposing hidden objects and stories that had been left out of many other displays. I left the exhibition feeling truly inspired knowing how much change can come from campaigning, protesting and fighting for what you believe in. I can openly say I would be a suffragist rather than a suffragette (I’m very scared about breaking the law or getting into trouble!) but this exhibition showed how both are necessary for change. Taking a stand, writing to MP’s, attending marches and vocalising your thoughts can support change. Nothing ever happens overnight, these women fought for decades for the first step but women’s continued fight went from no women > some women  > all women being allowed to vote in the UK. Women’s voice in Parliament has changed the way women can engage with politics, the decisions that are made in the House of Commons and the rights we have as an equal sex. I am forever grateful to the women who fought and continue to fight for change and equality in the UK and around the world and will aspire to be more involved in politics in the future. We women are a force to be reckoned with and we will not stop fighting for equal rights!

Keep fighting the good fight & showcasing women in exhibitions!

Happy Museum Musings,

Em xo

📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. 🗣🗳  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & VoteWomen’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara CastleMargaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo