Choco Story📍Brussels

Happy Monday!

One of the best museums I’ve ever visited is the Choco Story in Brussels, telling the history of chocolate from cocoa bean to shop chocolate and everything in-between. Opened in May 2014, the Museum is the collaborative effort of 2 families who wish to promote quality Belgian chocolate through this educational, fun public museum.

Upon arrival, visitors are given a choclate shaped guide (above) which can be used to listen to audio around the museum using scanning QR code type technology. The first room is set in Amazonian as the cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin. The room focusses on the cocoa bean: where it is found, what it looks like and introduces you to King Pakal, the corn god, who was found in a tomb in Mexico. Did you know? Cocoa was used over 5500 years ago and back then, the beans were as valuable as blood!

The next section takes us to Mexico where we are introduced to the value and different uses of cocoa beans. In the past, cocoa beans were used as currency due to their high value; for example 1 bean = 1 tomato, 10 beans = 1 rabbit. This really does embody the phrase that money grows on trees! Some brilliant objects included a molcajete (a chocolate grinder made from volcanic stone), beautifally decorated jicaro bowls and molinillo, wooden/corn cobs used to froth chocolate drinks.

Next up, we travelled to Spain where objects included sugar pliers, chocolate instruments and ingredients used in the spanish hot chocoate recipe. Then to France where a collection of intricate and beautiful drinking cups were on display. Artefacts including Mancerina cups, trembling cups and chocolate pots made from china, copper and silver showcased how chocolate cups have changed over time to ensure an enjoyable drinking experience across Europe.

From France, the musuem moves into the Tropics where visitors learn more about the history of chocolate and the topics of cocoa trading, exportation and sustainability. A large gallery wall with an accompanying film explores chocolate from growth to shop. The museum also higlights Cacao Trace – a fairtrade, mutually-beneficial programme that builds upon the farmers’ local knowledge and expertise and empowers them to be more productive and sustainable.

From here we travel to Europe where the story moves on to look at chocolate through the 1800’s. With an array of chocolate making equipment on display you get a great insight into how much technology and engineering has moved on since the 19th century.

The final country we visit is Belgium – a great finale seeing as the country produces arguably the best chocolate in the world! There is a brilliant collection of chooclate moulds used for all kinds of occassions as well as old, extremely rare vending machines that were used as ‘savings boxes’ by children throughout the 1920’s.

To top it all off, there are two interactive chocolate stations – one where you can watch chocolate being made by a chocolatier, the other where you can taste different types of chocolate. A delicious final touch to a fantastic museum exploring one of the most popular foods in the world. The whole musuem is a brilliant sensory experience – with smell buttons, tasting stations and audiovisual spots dotted throughout each exhibit.

If you Visit Brussels, Choco Story is an absolute MUST! Although a little difficult to find – it is inbetween Mannekin Pis and The Square (the entrance is in an archway along the street connecting the two). Not only is Choco Story beautifully displayed, it is an absolute gem filled with interactive stations and sensory delights.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

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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

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

📍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

 

British Museum traineeship

Last week I wrote my first post about the first job role I had in museums which was as a Training Museum Trainee (TMT) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS). So this week I’m going to focus on my second. One that I still can’t actually believe happened…

In March last year I was job-hunting and came across a entry level role within the Development Department at the British Museum. It was a role centred around Fundraising which I have experience in; formally volunteering at the NSPCC and UNICEF UK as a Community Fundraising intern and then carrying out a fundraising placement at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester whilst at CIMS. The job was everything I had wanted as it seemed like the only aspect of museums not covered in my TMT. I honestly thought the interview had gone dreadfully; I remember phoning my mum and just cringing at how bad it was but laughing it off by saying at least I wouldn’t have to face the interviewers again! But somehow, on a sunny day in May, I got a phone-call offering me the role… I have never been so shocked in my life!

Fast forward 1 month and I was living in London, commuting on the grossly hot Central line and walking in to this magnificent view on my first day! What a dream! I still pinch myself thinking about how quickly my career in museums has excelled in 3 years.

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My role at the BM was within the Major Gifts team of Development; with main responsibilities including writing donor reports, carrying out research projects, maintaining the donor database, sending communications to ensure high quality stewardship and any ad-hoc administrative tasks. I also had the opportunity to attend training sessions, conferences and staff events which really shaped my understanding of a large, international museum. Over the year I also supported a number of donor events including Private Exhibition Viewings, Young Friends Sleepovers and gallery openings which were all very exciting.

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I am truly grateful that I have been able to work at one of the BIGGEST museums in the world so early on in my museum career. And although I have decided not to pursue a career in Fundraising, the people I have worked with, skills I have gained and lessons I have learnt along the way have taught me so much. I am most happy working with objects and engaging visitors though interpretation, events and outreach so I am looking for more Learning and Collections roles (but before then I plan to do an museum tour around Europe!) It has been a marvellous, challenging but invaluable experience and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Here’s to the ‘Museum of the world, for the world’ giving me my biggest museum opportunity yet!

Em x

Museum beginnings…

Hi, I’m Emily, an early museum professional, documentary enthusiast, proud feminist and David Attenborough lover.

Museum Musings is my first solo blogging project and I’m excited to document the museum experiences I have, the stories I learn through exhibitions, events and programming as well as the challenges I have seen within the heritage sector. As an EMP I am on an exciting journey, developing my skills in the heritage sector, learning a lot of new ways of thinking (and reinforcing how not to!), as well as allowing me to see some of the most beautiful, inspiring and thought-provoking exhibits and places I have ever seen.

My first few entries will look at my museum journey so far and some of the exciting projects I have been involved with over the past 3 years.

Training Museum

My museum journey began in 2015 when I joined Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS) as part of the first cohort of the Training Museum; a programme funded by Arts Council England with the primary aim of diversifying the CIMS workforce.

Rewind to October 2015, I was unemployed after deciding not to return to university to do my Teaching degree. It was a massive decision to make as I’d wanted to be a teacher for such a long time and all work experience, employment and volunteering I had done up until then had been with the aim with pursuing a teaching career. So deciding not to continue this career was a tough one but I’m so bloomin’ glad I did!

The interview process for the traineeship was a strenuous one but after submitting a written application, doing a video interview and participating in a group assessment day, I somehow got one of the 6 positions available. The traineeship was a way to diversify the the museum services workforce, with the trainees there to bring new ideas, different experiences and a variety of skillsets to the team, an idea that is something that needs to be rolled out throughout the whole sector. Over the year was based at Ipswich Museums, working across their 3 sites: Ipswich Museum, Christchurch Mansion and Ipswich Art Gallery.

Throughout the traineeship I worked on some incredible projects including reinterpreting the Victorian Gallery,  co-curating a Battle of the Somme display and re-designing a museum trail alongside delivering a Supplementary Schools programme, presenting at two major conferences and working visitor service shifts at the 3 museum sites.

F0ED2377-B209-4056-BF1B-E5327FFA7EE3Each week I also attended in-house training with taught me fundamental museum skills including object handling & packing, documentation essentials, marking & labelling, fundraising, museum audiences,

My year on the Training Museum taught me so much and I am so proud that I was part of the first cohort that (I hope) helped to shape the way that CIMS recruits its staff, the programming they plan and potentially influence the ways that different skills are viewed within the museum sector.

I am looking forward to developing my career in the heritage sector, particularly museums and documenting the exhibitions, events and buildings I visit along the way!

Ciao for now.

Em x