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A Maori Wero in Gallery Square

On the 12th of March, during Museum opening hours, Gallery Square was its usual busy blend of orientating school groups, parking prams and escaped toddlers.

At 5:30 the space lay silent and empty, cleared of the last visitor and interrupted only by the occasional late-working member of staff cutting across it on an errand. 

Two hours later Gallery Square was alive again, full of people listening intently to an orator, who speaking in the Maori language welcomed them as hypothetical members of another tribe, inviting them to make peace with him and put aside conflict.

 Singing as part of the powhiri

The orator was a member of Ngati Ranana, London’s Maori tribe, which has been in existence in different forms since the late 1950s.

Along with seventeen other members of Ngati Ranana he was at the Horniman to conduct a powhiri welcome ceremony. He was also about to witness a wero or challenge, performed by Maramara Totara, an organization of martial artists who fight with taiaha, perhaps the most iconic of Maori weapons.

 The wero

For the event in Gallery Square the Museum took a step back and we let our Maori guests steer things. As well as explaining the significance of the powhiri and wero, Ngati Ranana brought the audience into their ceremony, including them in their songs and speeches and, most movingly, greeting individual audience members with the hongi, an embrace in which a newcomer is welcomed through the pressing together of noses and the sharing of a breath.

 The hongi

Ngati Ranana and Maramara Totara briefly transformed Gallery Square into a place full of Maori significance and meaning. It was especially wonderful that our Maori guests shared this meaningfulness, generously taking in everyone present and embracing them as fellow tribesmen and women. 

Two days left for us to raise the remaining 8%!

We are inching every closer to reaching our total so we want to treat you to a look at Mark’s plans for the exhibition.

Mark has created this scale model to imagine how his paintings will sit in the gallery at the Horniman. In this model you may be able to make out pieces from his Paradise Birds, The Raft and Collected and Possessed series among others.

Alongside Mark’s work will be objects from our collection, shown on plinths in the model. These will be displayed as they are in storage, wrapped in plastic sheets, or in nests of tissue paper, evoking the wonder Mark experienced when he found them for the first time.

This really is the last chance to support our project and receive a beautiful reward in return. Our silk scarf and behind the scenes rewards include an invitation to the exhibition private view where you will be among the first able to see the realisation of this model.

We really need your help to raise the remaining £755. Please donate, upgrade your reward, and share our message so that we can make this exhibition happen.

Researching our Early Blackfoot Collections

A couple of weeks ago we hosted a visit from anthropology curators Anita Herle and Alison Brown and First Nations representatives Alan Pard and Charlene Wolfe. Our visitors were researching a collection of Blackfoot material which was accessioned by the Horniman in 1913 and which may have been collected in 1909 by John Eric Horniman, grandson of our founder, Frederick Horniman.

 

 

Alan, Charlene, Anita and Alison examine our Blackfoot collections in Hall 2 of our storage building.

Perhaps the most memorable object we came across was Horniman number 17.16, a pouch containing bark from the sweet pine (Abies Lasiocarpa). Alan explained to us how smoke from burning sweet pine bark is used in some smudging (or blessing) ceremonies by the Blackfoot Nation. A small altar of white clay is made, on which the bark is burnt, a bundle of feathers is then used to waft the smoke over the body of the person receiving the blessing.

It was remarkable, that even after a hundred years in the Horniman’s stores, the bundle still emitted the powerfully aromatic fragrance of sweet pine bark.

 

Alan investigates the sweet pine bark pouch

The last objects we looked at were probably made for sale to Europeans (25.51i and ii). Their purpose is unclear, but they may well have been intended to make up part of the saddle furniture of a horse. European influence is evident in the use of the Christian cross and letters, but traditional symbols are also present like the pipe and buffalo. The beads are tiny and would have been difficult to thread, we were struck by how long it must have taken to make the objects. The fineness of the work was mesmerising and the overall effect very beautiful indeed.

Two beautifully beaded objects. Could they be saddle furniture?

One of the repeated pleasures of being a curator is examining objects alongside experts.  When the objects have a special value and meaning for those experts, as was the case for Alan and Charlene, that pleasure becomes something more profound.

 

 

 

About the Art: Mark Fairnington

With just a week left in our campaign to bring Mark Fairnington's exhibition here, we spoke to Mark about his artwork Doncombe Aga Khan.

What I wanted is something that wherever you are, you've got a sense of this physical presence.

This is a very large painting, very detailed. How did you go about painting it?

"I'd say it's very like taxidermy. You start with an internal structure and then you build out, add the fine details and so on.

When painting, I like the way the brushwork highlights all the different aspects of a subject. Some of them are like lines that wrap around the shape and give a sense of volume, and then you come up to the ear and they just become hairs, it's quite a free flowing process"

You've removed the background, the bull is almost cut out. Why?

"The only bit that I really had to think about was whether to have some little shadows under the bull or not. In the end, I decided to go for something that's an ambiguous space, it's not like a real space.

The painting that I was thinking of was a painting by Stubbs called Whistlejacket, which is a huge painting of a horse. He has these little shadows underneath the hooves."

This painting of a bull is one of six you've made, isn't it?

"Yes, in this series of six paintings, called The Bulls, they all face the same way. They're all exactly life size. They're all on canvases of the same height.

It's like postcards or cigarette cards or something like that, but with fine details and rendered in life size proportions. There's also an element of ambiguity, the work looks realistic, but also they are framing knowledge and information in an original, and quite abstract, way."


We want to stage an exhibition of Mark's paintings here at the Horniman later this year - and we need your help to make it happen. Donate now and you'll get great rewards

 

Art Happens: New artwork

With just two weeks of our crowdfunding project left we are excited to give you an exclusive first look at one of Mark’s newest works, but there is still time for you to support and be a part of this new exhibition.

Okapi, a new work by Mark Fairnington, is a painting of the eye of a beautiful specimen which is the temporary star of the Natural History Gallery here at the Horniman.

Artist Mark Fairnington can remember visiting the Natural History Museum and being transfixed by a jungle diorama which included an Okapi specimen. The Okapi is a distant relative of the giraffe, although you might think it loos similar to a zebra. Later, when this diorama was dismantled and the Okapi put into storage, Mark feared he would never see it again.

Fast forward to March 2015 and the very same specimen has been loaned to us as part of the redisplay of the entrance to our much-loved Natural History gallery. This new area invites visitors to explore our fascination with nature through star specimens from our Natural History collections. It is also an exciting opportunity for the Horniman to borrow fascinating large-animal specimens from other institutions, and the Okapi is the first.

 

By supporting us, you have the chance to own two of Mark’s beautiful eye prints of their very own, Tyger Tyger and Zebra, as well as a Zebra tote bag, both available only as part of this crowd-funding project.

We are now 40% funded and have only 14 days left to raise the money to fund Mark’s exhibition. Please continue to help by donating and sharing our campaign so that we can show off more of Mark’s fascinating paintings.

Collecting Carnival in Brazil

Musical Instrument curator Margaret tells us about her recent research trip to Rio de Janeiro to collect instruments relating to carnival (with photographs by Sandra D'Angelo).

In February, I spent time in Rio de Janeiro collecting materials for a new display of instruments, costume and film representing performances of some of the 'blocos' or bands of musicians and dancers, whose lively parades are an integral part of the street life of the city during carnival.

Filming focussed on the samba baterias, with percussionists who play a variety of drums, together with rattles and agogo bells.

They parade behind the dancers and in front of the 'camion', a lorry equipped with a sound system to amplify the voices of the singers, and the sounds of the plucked stringed and other instruments that are played by musicians standing on its roof.

The streets are usually closed for these events, and in the case of the parade of Monobloco, whose instruments will be shown in the exhibition, one of the city's main arterial roads, Avenida Presidente Vargas, was shut down to accommodate not just the large bloco, but also the million strong army of fans who followed the parade.  

Twitter Museum Week 2015

Next week, the Horniman will join museums and galleries from across the UK and Europe for the second Twitter #MuseumWeek.

#MuseumWeek will take place from Monday 23 March to Sunday 29 March.

Museums will be tweeting using the #MuseumWeek hashtag, telling stories about their collections, exhibitions and events and showing what goes on behind the scenes.

The project will see museums tweet using a different theme and hashtag for each day of the week - with everyone else getting involved too. 

  • On Monday 23, we'll be tweeting the secrets of the musuem using #secretsMW. 
  • For the #souvenirsMW in Tuesday 24 March, we'll tell you about our gifts and ask you to tell us your favourite souvenirs. 
  • On Wednesday 25 March, we'll turn our attention to buildings with the #architectureMW hashtag.
  • On  Thursday 26 March, we'll be showing art inspired by the Horniman and our collections and asking you to share yiurs with the hashtag #inspirationMW
  • Friday 27 March is all about #familyMW - lots about families in our collections or visiting the Horniman. 
  • On Saturday 28 March, we'll be asking you to tweet the favourite thing you have seen in the Horniman using #favMW
  • Finally, on Sunday 29 March, we want to see your photos posing like our objects -  using #poseMW

You can follow the Horniman's #MuseumWeek activity by signing up to Twitter and following us @HornimanMuseum

Crossing Borders 2015: local communities come together at the Horniman

Joanna Slusarczyk and Lucia Cortelli tell us about Crossing Borders, an event at the Horniman bringing together local communities.

On Saturday 7th February, the Horniman hosted an event bringing together local community groups of newly-arrived migrants and refugees.

We were asked to volunteer on that day and decided to join in.

We became volunteers at the Horniman to learn how a museum engages its audience and local communities with its vast collection. It was also relevant to our studies at UCL in Anthropology and Museum and Gallery Education.

We had never volunteered on a Crossing Borders event and we were looking forward to working with the members of the many associations involved.

In fact, Crossing Borders began in 2003 and has grown each year due to the increasing participation of local community groups working with refugees and asylum seekers. This year the event included a wide range of exciting activities, from storytelling to live theatre performances.

Upon our arrival at the museum, other volunteers and member of staff were already decorating the galleries with bunting created by the collaboration between the Youth panel and new arrivals at Pan-Intercultural Arts as well as shopping bags created by families of the Indoamerican Refugee Migrant Organisation and the family learning team.

In the conservatory, others were setting up the tables for the food to be served at lunchtime, free of charge to all participating community groups.

Before the opening time, we helped the members of Streatham Women’s Sewing Group transforming Gallery Square with a giant colourful dress, which provided inspiration for the family activity. The dress was a collaborative artwork conceived by artist Fion Gunn and craftswoman Ifrah Odawa and was inspired by personal memories of how important life occasions were marked by different dressed in the lives of the members' mothers.

The activity was to design and make your own outfit using colourful fabrics, the finished designs were displayed on the wall in the museum. Gallery Square was busy with families creating artworks and enjoying the social and inclusive atmosphere, our group of volunteers was trying to help with the activity and make a contribution to the smooth running of all the events.

Later, Gallery Square was reshuffled into a performance space for the Paper Project at the Oval House Theatre. These artists from different cultural backgrounds performed an experimental piece of theatre called "I Was a Child Somewhere Else", demonstrating the journey from childhood to adulthood.

They used a series of symbolic props such as egg shells and odd shoes to demonstrate the journeys undertaken by many people who wish to build a new life for themselves in a new country. The performance was dedicated to the undocumented children living in the UK who are precluded university or a career.

The audience waited in anticipation for the other performance, which occurred later in the afternoon. Fairbeats!, together with families from Action for Refugees in Lewisham, sang lyrics they had written themselves, in an energized and exciting song sharing performance.

In the meanwhile, in the Hands on Base there was a screening of Seeking Refuge. This is a series of animated films created by Mosaics Films for the BBC. Director Andy Glynne says the aims of the films are clear: "At the very least I hope that it increases awareness within children," he says. "It's about showing engagement, empathy and understanding of what it's like for people who are fleeing their own homelands because of persecution."

In the same room, films were alternated with storytelling. Sally Pomme Clayton led interactive storytelling sessions with visitors and members of the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers. Using pictures taken by the participants of an ongoing photography project, the story teller engaged members of the public to tell their own stories using the photographs as well as to listen to stories from different cultures.

Visitors to the museum thoroughly enjoyed the event and all activities on the day were welcomed with enthusiasm. A local grandmother who attended the event told us that the Horniman is brilliant for community events because it brings people from different backgrounds together. As volunteers we also enjoyed taking active part in this event and witnessing the exchanges and encounters that took place on the day in a spirit of inclusion and openness.

 

To QR code or not to QR code?

New displays opened in our Natural History Gallery this week, exploring our fascination with nature over centuries and providing an introduction to both our historic Natural History collections and gallery.

While developing the displays, our Keeper of Natural History, Jo Hatton, found that there were some stories she wanted to tell, but just could not fit, like showing the history of the gallery or more of Frederick Horniman's large insect collections.

Additionally, while there is space in the displays for 8 of Edward Hart's cased taxidermy dioramas of British birds, we have more than 250 of these dioramas in our collection - so there is lots more to explore.

We set about thinking about ways we could encourage our visitors to explore and learn more about our collections digitally.

Our website provided us with the tools for that. We have:

But the question remained: how do we encourage visitors to further explore these, either during or after their visit.

We didn't want to put screens into the gallery (they're expensive, they break) and our visitors now come with their own mobile phones, tablets, sometimes even laptops.

There are a number of options we could have used: iBeacons, NFC tags, QR codes or simply a web address.

We quickly decided against iBeacons. The way these send a message to phones in the vicinity felt, to us, to be a little intrusive and unnecessarily disruptive. We also didn't think NFC tags were understood enough.

So we settled on using two options. A short cut web address is printed on panels next to the relevant displays, along with a QR code - with clear info on what the visitor gets by scanning the code.

For years, QR codes (little barcode-like images) have been hailed as a great solution to a problem like this.

Their only downfall (and it's a pretty big one!) is that people do not know what they are, how to use them and, consequently, don't use them. So they can seem more than a little redundant.

QR codes do have some advantages though: they're very cheap to implement (they can be free in fact - except for costs of printing the panel) and we can see how many times they are used. Both of these advantages apply to the printed web addresses too.

So, in addressing a great museum digital debate which has raged for the past few years - to QR code or not? - we've said yes, albeit a little reluctantly.

We're intriged to see how well these will be used - we'll let you know what we find.

Introducing Mark Fairnington

We began a fundraising appeal last week so we could stage an exhibition of Mark Fairnington's art.

We really want to bring Mark's art to the Horniman, as many of his paintings are inspired by our collections.

But in case you don't know him, we thought we should introduce his excellent artworks.

We hope you'll love Mark's art as much as we do - to help us stage his exhibition, visit Art Happens to donate.

 















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