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Around the World in 80 Objects Part Four

 Our Around the World in 80 objects tour has come to a close. We've travelled through Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, and at last, we're back in Lewisham.

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we've been posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigated a route around the world.

Find out how our journey came to an end as we followed in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrated human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.


 

 



























About the Art: Bryan Alexander

We spoke with Bryan Alexander, the photographer behind our new exhibition Yamal: The Stream of Life, about working in the Arctic for almost half a century.

What are you looking for when you capture a photograph?

When I am out on the tundra or in native camps, I tend to just react to whatever is going on around me. It’s hard to plan too much ahead as things can be so unpredictable in the Arctic.

If I am working on a specific story I will often make a list of the subjects that I feel I need to photograph in order to tell the story.

What are the difficulties you face working in and photographing the Arctic and how do you overcome them? 

The cold is one obvious difficulty when working in the Arctic, especially during the winter months.

With the right clothing though I find I can keep warm enough even when photographing in temperatures as low as -58° C. When it’s very cold I usually wear a combination of modern cold weather clothing and traditional native clothes.

Finding cameras that work well at these low temperatures can be challenging, particularly nowadays with most cameras being electrically operated. Batteries lose their power much quicker at extremely low sub-zero temperatures, so I always have to carry a lot of extra batteries.

Transport can also be a problem when travelling in the Arctic, where the distances are vast. Reaching isolated camps and villages can be difficult due to the limited transport. One camp I visited in Chukotka, Siberia took me a month to reach.

During my time working in the Arctic, I have travelled by a wide variety of transport from traditional Arctic transport like dog sleds, snowmobiles, reindeer sleds, and kayaks, to modern transport, like all-terrain vehicles, motor boats, helicopters, and planes.

  • Nenets Selfie, (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com
    , (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com

Having worked in the Arctic for 47 years now, what changes have you noticed to the landscape and to the people?

Of course, the whole world has changed considerably over the past 47 years and the Arctic is no exception.

The only place that I have been and noticed a significant change in the landscape is Northwest Greenland. The warming climate has resulted in the icecap and glaciers receding considerably there.

The Politiken Glacier, which I first travelled on by dog sled in 1971, was used regularly as a route to neighbouring villages and hunting grounds by the local Inuit during the winter months. Now it is impassable by dog sled because of the receding ice and the deep crevasses that have opened up.

To me, the most striking change to affect the Arctic’s native peoples has been the steady decline in their traditional culture. There have been positive changes too, better transport, schools, healthcare etc. I feel privileged to have been able to document this period of change in the life of some of the Arctic indigenous peoples.

What is your fondest memory of working in the Arctic? Or your most notable incident?

I have many fond memories of working in the Arctic, certainly too many to mention here. I think that the most memorable incident occurred on my second trip to North Greenland.

During the winter, I went walrus hunting with three Inuit hunters from the village of Siorapaluk. We travelled by dog sled and were about 30km out on the frozen sea when the ice broke up around us.

For three days we drifted out to sea on a small ice floe, before being blown back towards the Greenland coast during a severe storm. On our fourth day adrift, the local villagers realised it was likely that we were in trouble and alerted the authorities.

Once the storm had subsided a search for us began. Two helicopters searched for us for over five hours and the pilots were on the point of abandoning their search when one of them spotted us on the ice.

Fortunately, there was a happy ending for all concerned in this rather scary incident and a few days later, we all headed out onto the frozen sea to hunt walrus again.

What is your relationship with the Nenets? How did you gain access to their communities and lives?

I first visited the Yamal in 1993 on an assignment for an American magazine. Travelling in isolated areas of Russia at that time was difficult, so I was fortunate when I was offered a ride in a helicopter to visit a remote Nenets reindeer herders’ camp.

When the helicopter landed in a forest clearing, I was amazed to see how traditional the Nenets herders were. They were living in reindeer skin tents and everyone at the camp was dressed from head to foot in traditional reindeer skin clothes.

Sergei Serotetto, the head of the group of herders, invited me to have a meal in his family’s tent. We all got on very well and I ended up asking if I could stay with them. There was a problem in that I had lost my bag containing my cold weather clothing. Sergei and his family quickly solved that problem by finding me a reindeer skin parka and long boots to wear.

I ended up staying over a month with them as they travelled from the forest north across the River Ob and then onto tundra on their 1000km spring migration. The longer I spent with these herders, the more interested I became in Nenets culture and the problems the people faced.

After I returned to the UK, I managed to persuade the magazine’s editor to send me back to the Yamal again at the end of the summer, to re-join Sergey and his family as they began their journey south back to their winter pastures.

Since my two visits there in 1993, I have returned to the Yamal on a number of occasions to document life in different camps and communities. I have photographed, not only Nenets, but also different cultures like the Khanty, Komi and Selkup, who also live in the Yamal.

  • Young girl with goose, (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com
    , (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com

What was it like returning to the Nenets over the years? What surprised you the most about how the community has changed or hasn’t?

Although I have visited the Yamal region many times since 1993, it was only in 2017 that I re-visited Sergey and his family. They were at their winter pastures and it was wonderful to be with them again. It was just like visiting old friends anywhere.

At first glance, there didn’t appear to have been much change. Sergey and his family were still living in the same reindeer skin tent and his wife Galya still made reindeer-skin clothes for the family.

However, I noticed that there had been no snowmobiles in the group back in 1993, everyone travelled by reindeer sled. Nowadays every herder drives his own snowmobile.

In 1993, there had been no electricity at the camp, candles and kerosene lamps were the only light source. Now every tent had a small portable generator, bringing not just light but enough power for laptop computers and TV. Children can watch cartoons before going to sleep, and later in the evening after they have finished their work the adults can watch movies.

In 1993, gas development in the Yamal Peninsula was just beginning. I thought that within ten years there would be no more reindeer herding on the Yamal Peninsula but I have been proved wrong. Although the reindeer herders have lost a considerable amount of their pastures to the gas industry there are now many more reindeer in the Yamal than there were in 1993.

What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?

I would like to think that people will take away an insight into Nenets culture and that the exhibition may even inspire some of them to visit the Yamal see the region for themselves. 

What do you have coming up next?

At the beginning of September 2018, I will be in Moscow for the opening of my exhibition, “The Arctic Circle of Life” at the State Museum of Oriental Art. After that, I plan to travel to Siberia’s Gydan Peninsula and photograph there for about a month.

Around the World in 80 Objects Part Three

Our Around the World in 80 objects tour is now over halfway complete. With Asia under our belts, we're starting our island hopping tour of Oceania.

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe, across Africa, and swept through Asia. Now we'll go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.














 

The Museum of Your Life part 2

Our World Gallery asked the questions, "What objects do you hold dear?" and "What is a life well lived?" 

We've been asking you to tell us about the objects that mean something to you, and we've had some fantastic responses.

Designer Wayne Hemingway tell us about how an early Buzzcocks EP helped spark a life of creativity.

CBeeBies presenter and self-proclaimed 'nature nut' Ferne Corrigan tells us about her salad servers from Malawi.

Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie tells us about her waterphone, which not only sounds but looks beautiful.

Sculptor David Mach RA tells us what his daughters hand written note on a napkin means to him.

 Actress Kellie Shirley talks about her piece of theare history and what it reminds her of.

What do you hold dear? Tell us online and visit the World Gallery to hear more stories.

Around the World in 80 Objects Part Two

Our Around the World in 80 World Gallery Objects Tour is well under way now. We've travelled across Southern Europe, the length and breadth of Africa, and now we're heading towards Asia.

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe, across Africa, ando now we're looking to sweep through Asia. From there we'll go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.

 























 

Around the World in 80 Objects

To celebrate the opening of our new World Gallery we're using our Twitter to take you "Around the World in 80 objects". 

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe and will soon be crossing to Africa. From there we'll sweep across Asia, go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.

For now, enjoy our recap of our journey over the past six days.

Day One - Great Exhibition Fan

Our journey began here in London, with this fan made in 1851 to celebrate the opening of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. The Great Exhibition was the first of a series of world fairs popular in the 19th century that inspired great minds including Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

Day Two - Napoleon's Pipe

A short hop over the English Chanel brought us to France to inspect a beautifully ornate pipe made of porcelain, silver, and amber that is said to have been smoked by Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

Day Three - Tree of Jesse

Crossing into the Alps of Switzerland, we shared this stunning carved ivory plaque depicting the Tree of Jesse.

Day Four - Snuff Box

Taking inspiration from the Grand Tour's of the past we moved down through Italy, inspecting this 19th century snuff box displaying some of Italy's most famous sights.

Day Five - Presepe

Presepi are a regular sight in Southern Italy at Christmastime. Presepi depict nativity scenes in miniature and often include humourous and ribald figures too, our Presepe includes some familiar faces.

Day Six - Mamuthones Costume

On to Sardinia, to inspect this Mamuthones costume. The Carnival of the Mamuthones dates back thousands of years and you can find out more in our new World Gallery.

Saint George, Patron Saint of Ethiopia

We're sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Saint George. As the Patron Saint of England, his legend is one well known across the country.

Even if you aren't familiar with George himself you'll have seen the cross of Saint George everywhere - from flags on government buildings to football strips.

Saint George isn't just the Patron Saint of England though. George's patronage extends to amongst others, Aragon and Catalonia, Georgia (unsurprisingly), Moldova, Palestine, and Ethiopia. In our collections from Ethiopia in particular, Saint George features prominently. So just why has the East African nation taken the Saint to their hearts?

Ethiopia, along with its neighbour Eritrea, is something of an exception in the Horn of Africa, in that it is a nation in which the majority of the population practices Christianity. Christianity in Ethiopia takes the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots all the way back to the Apostles. Made the official church of the Kingdom of Axum in the 4th century AD, making it one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, it has remained the dominant religion in Ethiopia ever since. In fact, the Kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from the biblical figures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  

  • Saint George 001, Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.
    Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.

It is unclear quite how the story of Saint George first came to Ethiopia. Saint George is an important figure in the Middle East particularly in Palestine and Lebanon - it is said he was born in either the Levant or Cappadocia - and may have been introduced to Ethiopia by contact with other Oriental Orthodox churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt. 

  • 465px-Bete_Giyorgis_03, The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.
    The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.

One thing that's very clear though is how important George is in the East African state. In the town of Lalibela, an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians, eleven churches were hewn from rock between the 7th century AD and the 13th century AD. This monumental task means that the churches are found in subterranean trenches with the earth around them excavated to create the form of magnificent church structures. The best preserved and best-executed church in Lalibela is the Biete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George. Allegedly, this church was sculpted under the orders of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela - after whom the town is named - in the 13th century AD after Saint George visited him in a vision instructing him to do so. 

Addis Ababa's cathedral is dedicated to Saint George, as is the city's leading football team. There's even a beer named after Saint George.

Saint George is a popular figure in Ethiopian iconography often appearing on horseback driving his lance or spear into the dragon he so famously slew. Just as George's role as a warrior saint made him a popular figure amongst knights and crusaders of Europe, his association with war and battle is prominent when examining our collection of depictions of George in Ethiopian art. The two paintings featured below depict Saint George at the heart of one of Ethiopia's most important historical moments, the Battle of Adwa.

  • Battle of Adwa 01, Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.
    Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.

At the end of the 19th century, Africa had been carved up by the European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. All of Africa was claimed by European empires with the exception of two states, the Republic of Liberia and the Ethiopian Empire. Despite this, in 1895, the Kingdom of Italy invaded Ethiopia to further its colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa. Despite initial Italian success, Ethiopian forces would rout their opponents at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, ending their imperial ambitions in Ethiopia. According to the historian Raymond Jones, Adwa stands out as one of the significant events of the 19th century as "In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia alone had successfully defended its independence."

  • Battle of Adwa 02, As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.
    As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.

In both paintings, we see the amassed forces of Ethiopia and Italy facing off against each other across a battlefield. The Ethiopian forces are also led by the same three figures in both paintings - Emperor Menelik II, Emperess Taytu, and Saint George. Saint George soars above both scenes surrounded by a halo of red, green, and gold, the colours of the Ethiopian flag, granting divine inspiration to the forces of Ethiopia. In one case he even hurls his spears into the massed ranks of the Italian army. 

The Battle of Adwa is commemorated to this day in Ethiopia as a national holiday, with public celebrations held in towns and cities across Ethiopia every year. Each year they celebrate the leadership of Menelik II, Tatyu, and of course Saint George.

The Elephant and the Rat

While looking through our collections recently we noticed that in most of the depictions of Ganesha we found he is often accompanied by a rat. Eager to get to the bottom of the mystery for World Rat Day we decided to delve deep and uncover the meaning behind this unlikely pairing.

Ganesha is one of the most easily recognisable deities of the Hindu pantheon and he will be familiar to many non-Hindus. His distinctive elephant's head marks him out as one of the most memorable figures in Hinduism, and as a patron of the arts and scientists and the remover of objects he plays an important role for many communities throughout South Asia. You may have also noticed that often wherever Ganesha goes he is accompanied by a rat. A small rat may cower beneath his feet, or a giant rat may serve at his vehicle or 'Vahana'. How has a figure as revered as Ganesha come to be associated with the common rat then?

  • 1990.23, This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet
    This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet

The rat first appears as Ganesha's mount in Hindu mythology in the Matsya Purana, a Sanskrit text that is believed to have been begun in the 1st millennium BCE. Since then it has appeared in a number of important texts and myths surrounding Ganesha including the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana

According to the Ganesha Purana the mythical origin of Ganesha's rat is this:

There was a celestial musician-god by the name Krauncha. One day, in the court of Lord Indra, Krauncha accidentally stepped on the foot of Muni Vamadeva, who (as all Munis), got enraged and cursed Krauncha to become a mouse. However, Krauncha became a huge mountain-sized mouse and ended up damaging everything in its path. Once, he ended up stepping on the ashram of Maharshi Parashar, with whom Lord Ganesha was staying, and destroying it. Lord Ganesha, inorder to teach Krauncha a lesson, unleashed his pasha (noose) on Krauncha which ended up looping around the mouse and bringing him to Lord Ganesha's feet. Ganesha then said something like, "Krauncha...you have caused a lot of trouble and you deserve a severe punishment. But since you ask for my forgiveness, I will pardon you and use you as my vehicle". However, when Ganesha mounted on Krauncha, he couldnt bear the weight of Lord Ganesha. Krauncha pleaded for Ganesha to become light-weight so that he could support him. Lord Ganesha obliged and since then, has been using the mouse as his vehicle.

However, the argument continues on quite what the rat is meant to symbolise, and many aren't even sure it's a rat - it could be a mouse. Some believe that the rat helps Ganesha in his role as the remover of obstacles. Rodents can travel in spaces that others could never reach and this allows Ganesha to do his work in the unseen places of the world. The writer, Yuvraj Krishan has argued it is the opposite that is true - that the partnership of Ganesha and the rodent is not one of harmony but rather of domination:

Lord Ganesha is known as the Conqueror of Obstacles (Vighnaharta). In ancient times, when agriculture was the primary mode of sustenance, rodents were one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity. Rodents would destroy standing crops, eat up stored grains and thereby result in severe losses for the common man. Lord Ganesha, in having a mouse/rat as his vehicle, is symbolically shown to have conquered this pest, thus staying true to his name of Vighnaharta.

Whatever the truth is it seems these two aren't going to be separated any time soon. Next time you see a depiction of Ganesha why not see if you can find his rat companion nearby?

  • 513.003, A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana
    A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana

What do you own that means the most to you?

We need your help

The Horniman is looking for stories about the objects that mean the most to you.

It could be a photograph, a gift you’ve been given, a family heirloom or something that always makes you smile. Whatever you choose, tell us the story of how you came to own it, why it is important to you and what you think when you see it.

Our World Gallery will be full of objects that mean a great deal to different people, whether they are vital tools, clothes, decorations or toys.

We want your help in creating an online museum of objects to complement the World Gallery, so that we can see the objects that are most important to you, our audience and visitors.

So, how do you send your entry?

Send us a picture of your object and the story behind it, or record your own video like the ones above, to web@horniman.ac.uk. Alternatively, you can message us on Facebook or Twitter.

We will be selecting some of your stories and pictures to go into the World Gallery and will include others on our website, as part of this virtual museum.

World Poetry Day: The Wilsons and Wuhan

World Poetry Day is celebrated every year on 21 March to recognise the importance of poetry to human culture across the world.

At the Horniman we have been searching our collections for objects that will help us join the worldwide celebration and in this hunt have uncovered an object that shows how poetry and art unites us all across borders.

Horniman Object No. 2013.366 may not look like much at first glance. Wooden boards bound into a book by a leather spine does not make for the most eye-catching display, but open up the pages of this tome and you will be stunned. Each double-page spread features a unique poem written in both Chinese and English by an individual whose portrait has been lovingly painted as an accompaniment.

These poems were written to commemorate Reverend Robert Wilson, or ‘Mr Wei’, who had lived in what is now the city of Wuhan in Central China. Robert had passed away, leaving behind his wife and daughters. With the family set to return to England, it seems that friends and congregants of Mr Wilson had collaborated to produce this book to thank his widow for the impact he had on their lives, and to express the sadness that she too was leaving theirs.

We have highlighted three of these poems in particular that highlight how a group of ordinary people used the universal language of poetry to explore the sorrow and grief that they all shared.

 

Ah! How sad, the pastor is gone to heaven;

Having gone to the heavenly hall he has left

                The world forever.

Alas! The mother teacher has to return solitary,

When I think of the miles of ocean and

                Sea, my heart grows very sorrowful

                And sad.

 

-          Liu Chang Sin

 

  • 2013.366_01, Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait
    Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait

 

Oh how joyous! The mutual acquaintance between

The pastor Wei and myself was complete.

Oh how sorrowful! The teacher is gone to heaven,

And the teacher’s wife and daughters will

Now be separated from us.

 

Still my joy and my sorrow do not simply

Consist in this.

 

More sorrowful is it, that the harvest is great

And the Labourers few.

More joyous still is it, that there is a day when

The Teacher, with his wife and daughters

Together with ourselves shall meet each

Other in heaven.

 

-          Shun Tsi Sin, the local evangelist

 

  • 2013.366_02, The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin
    The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin

 

I am having my likeness taken,

And in presenting it to her who is about to return,

My object is to a small degree to soothe the sadness

                Of the voyage,

And not because I regard it of any value.

Though visibly there is a temporary separation,

After death we shall be again near each other.

Say not that the distance will be great there;

In heaven we shall all be neighbours.

 

-          Chii Hien Ohme

 

  • 2013.366_03, The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme
    The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme

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