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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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

📍Altes Museum, Berlin pt.2

So, I promised you a second instalment of my visit to the Altes Museum and here it is! Aside from my star objects from the Numistmatics Collection (which I found surprisingly interesting!), there were lots of other fascinating objects housed in the oldest museum on MuseumInsel. These are some of my favourites!

Highlight objects:

  1. Cauldron attachments: Heads of Griffins, Samos, Greece, around 640-630 BC. Heraiom, acquired c.1914, Bronze.

2. Greek bronze helmets from 7th century BC. Greece, Italy, Egypt; acquired 1904-5. Bronze, 700-600 BC.

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3. Relief with Heroes and worshippers – Chrysapha/Sparta. Greece, acquired from the Sabouroff Collection. Marble, c. 540 BC. These reminded me of the Assyrian reliefs on display at my former workplace, the British Museum. Kings such as Ashurbanipal would have walls leading up to their thrones decorated with scenes of them overseeing construction work or participating in lion-hunts to showcase their power. The design and regal feel of these reminded me so much of those that will be on display for the next major exhibition at the British MuseumI am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria which is on display from 8 November 2018 – 24 February 2019.

4. Gold jewellery from Tarentum, Italy. The find consisting of gold hairnet, necklaces, armlet in the shape of snakes – (very Taylor Swift-esque 🐍), earrings and a finger ring showcase the complete set of jewellery of a rich Tarentine woman. They were most probably left as grave goods upon her death in the late 3rd century BC.

Gold hairnet: This exquisite gold hairnet was part of the gold haul and has an old, reused medallion with the head of Medusa as the centre piece. Found c.1900 in Tarentum, Italy. Acquired in 1980. Made and used in 230-210 BC.

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5. Jewellery from the Geometric Period:

Fragile golden bands with depictions of stencilled figurative patterns were most likely places around the heads of the deceased. Because the markings are difficult to see with the naked eye, the museum have scanned and recreated the stencilled bands to make the decoration clearer for visitors to get a better look at the intricacy. This simple but effective touch really helped the objects to stand out and be more accessible.

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6. Scythian Gold body ornaments and mirror. The largest Scythian jewellery ensemble outside the countries of origin.

The final special exhibition, Fleish (Flesh/Meat) was also very endearing. Themes such as Rost/Food, Kult/Cult and Körper/Body explores human relationship with meat and how it sits in a precarious space between life and death. The exhibition poses interesting questions about the conflicts of meat in society, how it it seen to some as repulsive but others as nutrition and ultimately how we as humans think about it in the modern day.

This was by far one of the most exquisite museums I’ve ever visited. The space was used so well and it didn’t feel overly repetitive as the statues, gold, numismatics, grave goods were distributed throughout the galleries rather than in one space. I spent hours exploring this museum and would recommend you make the time to do so too if you’re visiting beautiful Berlin 🏛🇩🇪

Happy museum musings!

Em xo