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Horniman and Homecoming

The Horniman is excited to be involved in the Homecoming festival this year. The festival takes place from 19-21 April in Lagos and London.

Homecoming is a great celebration of Lagos art and culture. This resonates with our work at the Horniman, our commitment to music, visual art and performance, and how artists offer new perspectives on our collections.

The Horniman collections are from all over the world, while our exhibitions, displays and events bring artists from different backgrounds to show their work in our galleries and Gardens.

Homecoming gives us the chance to share some of the ideas we are working on with artists and colleagues in Lagos, and this is great timing because we have a number of projects in development.

Grace Ladoja MBE, Homecoming’s founder, says:

Homecoming's purpose is to ignite a celebration of cultural heritage and creative exchange, through the lens of music, fashion, sport and art.

In the Horniman, we're delighted to have the support of one of the UK's most culturally significant institutions for this year's edition. Their collection - one of the most expansive in the world - is steeped in Nigerian heritage and the Museum is already doing some wonderful work with artists and creatives in Nigeria, particularly in the run up to the country's 60th year of independence in 2020.

I'm confident this collaboration with the Horniman will help bring new audiences to the Horniman, while creating heightened visibility for Nigerian creatives under an international lens.

We’d love to hear more about the projects that are happening in Lagos, find ways to connect to them and share our ideas with you.

So what are we doing here in London?

Jide Odukoyo, Turn it Up

Jide Odukoya is a Nigerian photographer, whose first photographic pursuits were on the streets of Nigeria, including cities such as Lagos, Ogun, Ibadan, Ekiti, Benue, Oyo, Calabar, Enugu, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Now he majors in both long and short-term documentary photography projects focused on lifestyle, socio-economic issues, health and gender equality issues in Nigeria and beyond.

  • An image from Turn It Up by Jide Odukoya, An image from Turn It Up, Jide Odukoya
    An image from Turn It Up, Jide Odukoya

We were interested in Odukoya’s approach at the Horniman, and commissioned a series of photographs and film footage documenting the busy street markets on Lagos Island for the new World Gallery back in 2016.

Odukoya will be showing his recent series, Turn it Up, on the Balcony Gallery above the World Gallery. 'Turn it Up' is Lagosian vernacular for lavish fun. Odukoya shows Nigeria abuzz through public displays of cosmopolitan affluence and indulgence, celebrating Nigerian weddings and parties as some of the world's most opulent and outrageous ceremonies.

Through his work, Odukoya also wishes to evoke the paradox of such opulence, highlighting how momentary overindulgence is an important part of Nigerian cultural identity because the wealth that supports it is so fragile. See this display from June 2019.

Music in South London

The Horniman has one of the biggest collections of musical instruments in the world. The objects within come from all over the world, from 4,000 year old Egyptian hand clappers, to one of the first dance band drum kits in London and many instruments from Nigeria.

Our home in the heart of South London, puts us in the midst of a thriving and dynamic music scene, including Jazz, Grime and Afrobeat. Over the next two years we will be working with a range of musicians from the area, giving them a chance to work with our music collections and develop new work.

  • 1930s Drum Kit, 1930s Drum Kit
    1930s Drum Kit

This project, which is the first of its kind, will result in a major exhibition and music festival in autumn 2020.

Textiles and Independence

In October 2020, Nigeria will celebrate its 60th anniversary of Independence. We will be marking this at the Horniman with a new display in the World Gallery focusing on textiles, objects, images, sounds and memories from Nigeria in 1960.

We have a significant collection of mid-century indigo-dyed Adire cloth, printed wax cloths and woven Aso’Oke and Ekwete from the south and east, as well as thicker woven cloths from Kano in the North.

  • A close up of Nigerian textiles, A close up of Nigerian textiles - 1968.434
    A close up of Nigerian textiles - 1968.434

These textiles speak to a moment of artistic production and cultural reflection that surrounded Nigeria’s independence. They also reflect how this moment was one of migration and movement, with these textiles following their owners, as both Nigerian and British citizens resettled in the UK.

We will also be working with Nigerian/British artist Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman, weaving her own personal collection of objects and family memories from Nigeria in 1960, and creating new objects reflecting on the legacies of this moment in the present.

We hope to invite other people living in both Nigeria and Britain, to share their stories and photographs from and around the time of Nigerian independence, and to discuss how independence is remembered and reflected on today.

We’re interested in hearing what else is going on in London and Lagos, as part of this cultural exchange. What are your plans and how can we work together?

Horniman’s 5 Women Artists

When people have been asked to name five female artists (beyond perhaps Frida Kahlo) they struggle. Magnificent and talented as they are, there’s a wealth of female artists out there. At the Horniman, we have exhibited works by Lynette Nampijimpa Granites Nelson, Buffy Cordero-Suina and Olive Blackham to name a few.

So this year we have decided to take part in the challenge National Museum of Women in the Arts set again, and highlight female artists. We’re even giving you a sneak peek about who will be exhibiting later this year towards the end of this post.

Shauna Richardson

  • Photo of Shauna Richardson, Shauna Richardson
    , Shauna Richardson

Shauna Richardson developed a sewing technique called Crotchetdermy®. Crotchetdermy® creates a skin like visual by using the interlocking of looped stitches formed with a single thread and hooked needle. Her exhibition EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works compliments the taxidermy and narrative of evolution from the Natural History Gallery.

“Crochetdermy® is a combination of all sorts of things. I guess it’s a mash-up of me and my life. There are childhood pastimes such as museum visits and making things, and the adult interest in art theory, particularly in what constitutes art and perhaps more interestingly, what does not. Constant throughout there is rebellion, humour and pure devilment” – Shauna Richardson.

  • Bear Crochetdermy®, Bear Crochetdermy sculpture, Shauna Richardson
    Bear Crochetdermy sculpture, Shauna Richardson

Serena Korda

  • Serena Korda, Serena Korda , Chris Egon Searle
    Serena Korda , Chris Egon Searle

Have you seen or smelt the scented ceramics in our new arts space, The Studio?

English artist Serena Korda created them as part of her work with The Collective, a group of 10 people from the local community. Korda creates large-scale ensemble performances, soundscapes and sculptures that reflect communion and tradition and aspects of our lives.

This element feeds into The Lore of The Land exhibition, which asks us to think about our relationship to our natural environment. The exhibition features 100 objects from our anthropology collection, scented sculptures and a soundscape influenced by the chemical process that arises in trees and plants. You can visit The Lore of the Land until 2 June 2019.

  • The Lore of The Land , The Lore of The Land
    The Lore of The Land

Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman

  • Woyingi design piece , Woyingi design piece by Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman, Studio Sikoki , Jatin Garg
    Woyingi design piece by Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman, Studio Sikoki , Jatin Garg

Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman is an artist and industrial designer whose work explores the dynamics between the object, user, and the environment. 

Her piece in the World Gallery represents Woyingi. In Ljaw law, Woyingi is the goddess of all creation. Although many Ljaw people are now Christian, people still refer to God as Woyongi or Nana Owei.

Her beautiful pieces can be seen in the African encounter in the World Gallery.

Vuya Raratabu

In Fiji, Barkcloth, called tapa or masi, is a sacred material made from beaten mulberry bark. Traditionally, barkcloth is central to celebrations and milestones in family life. 

In the World Gallery, two examples of this can be seen. The dresses designed by Vuya Raratabu, were made to celebrate the 1st and 21st birthday of Shelley Marie Kaurasi. Traditionally these dresses only come in variants of brown and black, made with natural materials such as clay, dye and soot, which are representative of the land.

Across Polynesia, people share a similar understanding of mana as power, effectiveness and prestige of divine origin. In Fiji, mana is often associated with chiefs and healers. Mana also exists within objects. The chiefly regalia and barkcloth material you can see here reveal different ideas and experiences of mana.

  • 2017.85, Item 2017.85, dress by Vuya Raratabu
    Item 2017.85, dress by Vuya Raratabu

  •  2017.84, Item 2017.84, dress by Vuya Raratabu
    Item 2017.84, dress by Vuya Raratabu

Claire Morgan

  • Claire Morgan, Claire Morgan, David Holbrook
    Claire Morgan, David Holbrook

Claire Morgan is a UK artist, with a deep interest in humans and animals. Much of her work features taxidermy, creating tangible elements to something that would be lost.

“I am interested in humans as animals. What we have been, what we are, and what we could be or might be, as our way of living changes.” Claire Morgan

Morgan is in the process of creating special artworks that will connect to the Natural History Gallery. Watch this space for more news on Claire, as her pieces will be coming later next year.

Below are some of her preparatory sketches.

  • As I Live and Breathe (300 dpi-3547), As I Live and Breathe
37 x 28.2cm (h x w)
Pencil and watercolour on paper

Photo: Claire Morgan Studio, Claire Morgan

Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Paris, St. Moritz
    As I Live and Breathe 2019 37 x 28.2cm (h x w) Pencil and watercolour on paper Photo: Claire Morgan Studio, Claire Morgan Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Paris, St. Moritz

  • By the Skin of the Teeth (c) Claire Morgan, By the Skin of the Teeth 
67 x 101.8cm (h x w)
Pencil, watercolour, graphite, pastel on paper

Photo: Claire Morgan Studio

Claire Morgan

Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Paris, St. Moritz
    By the Skin of the Teeth 2019 67 x 101.8cm (h x w) Pencil, watercolour, graphite, pastel on paper Photo: Claire Morgan Studio Claire Morgan Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Paris, St. Moritz


And one more…

  • Katie Schwab, Katie Schwab, Sarah Packer
    Katie Schwab, Sarah Packer

We also recently announced a new partnership with Artist Katie Schwab who will co-produce a brand new artwork with a new Collective accompanied with a programme of events.

Share your stories of women artists using the hashtag #5WomenArtists on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

New year, new resolutions

It’s a brand new year and usually, that means we say goodbye to our old ways and give ourselves new goals to aspire to. Setting New Year’s resolutions is a tradition around the world, so what resolutions have you made? To give you some ideas, we have rounded up some resolutions to help you get your year off to a great start. 

Be more active


You may not want to sweat out in the gym and purchase that expensive gym membership. So how about a run, walk or even a stroll in our Gardens?

Apart from the health benefits from exercise, a walk in our Gardens is free and, no matter the season, there are always new blooms of life flourishing across our 16 acres of land. Have a play in the interactive sound garden, walk your dogs or discover quiet corners for contemplation.

There are also proven mental health benefits to spending time in nature, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety. So discover what our gardeners and curators have developed outdoors, to coincide with the Museum’s collections

Read a few more books

Did you know that every 1st Sunday of the month our library opens its doors to the public without any need for an appointment? The collection contains books covering anthropology to illustrated monographs and now has over 30,000 volumes.

The library is also staffed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open to researchers on these days by appointment (please email enquiry@horniman.ac.uk).

Or, if you want to read more with your children, you can find books on our Natural History Gallery Balcony and a reading corner on our World Gallery Balcony.

Spend more time with family and friends

The Horniman offers many free activities, whether you are visiting alone, with a friend or with family.

From photographic displays on our World Gallery Balcony to our permanent collections, from exhibitions like The Lore of the Land to displays like EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, there is always something to see and to think about.

In the Hands on Base, you can get closer to artefacts and objects. Whether you are interested in Mexican masks or want to learn more about endangered animals, who knows what you will discover in our free object-handling sessions.

Culture has a positive impact on wellness, so making some time for yourself in places like the Horniman, really can help you feel better.

View our Whats On calendar to see current and upcoming events and exhibitions.

Give something back to your community

  • Youth Panel , Balistic
    , Balistic

Volunteering gives an opportunity to give back to your local community, which has social benefits for groups like the over 40s.

Keep an eye on our website for ways to get involved or follow us on LinkedIn to hear about new opportunities.

If you’re aged between 14 and 19 and are interested in making a difference at the Horniman, why don’t you join the Horniman Youth Panel?

Whether it’s new year, new you or new year, same you, we hope you have a happy 2019 at the Horniman.

About the Art – Shauna Richardson

Crochetdermy® is a technique that you have created yourself. Can you tell us about the development process behind Crochetdermy® - how you came up with it and what it entails?

Crochetdermy® pieces are realistic life-size animals created using a freestyle crochet technique which I began to develop in 2007 when crochet was an endangered craft in this country. 

I came up with the name Crochetdermy® both to better describe what I do and as a way of holding people’s interest. Pre coming up with the name I found that people would drift off when I introduced myself as someone who crocheted animals.

Crochetdermy® is a combination of all sorts of things, I guess it’s a mash-up of me and my life.

There are childhood pastimes such as museum visits and making things, and the adult interest in art theory, particularly in what constitutes art and perhaps more interestingly, what does not. Constant throughout there is rebellion, humour and pure devilment.

I enjoy interventions and playing with preconceptions. The first piece of Crochetdermy® I created was a 7ft brown bear which I entered into the Burnham Market Flower and Produce show in the ‘One Crochet item’ category. The memory still makes me laugh.

What inspired you to create this exhibition?

This exhibition, EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, was an opportunity to display not only a selection of Crochetdermy® pieces  which demonstrate surface skills, but also with the graphs and charts - a little of what makes me tick. If there was one piece in the Horniman collection that I could cite as a source of inspiration it would be the Mendelism mice.

The exhibition includes bears, lionesses, boars, and monkeys, what drew you to these animals?

The trophies form an intervention within the existing museum display, there is something intriguing about the juxtaposition. The baboon skin is a new piece created specifically for this exhibition. Although an empty skin, the baboon reveals something of the evolution of the works,  demonstrating technique and the creation process.

How long does a piece take to make? Do you use live examples or taxidermy to help you create your work (or both)?

I have made some very large pieces. The biggest - The Lionheart Project - was made up of three 25ft lions, this took 18 months to create. More typically something like the baboon skin would take 6-8 weeks.

I use all sorts of sources for anatomy reference but by far the most referred to and most useful is my (live) Jack Russell - The Bean. 

Are there any other mediums that intrigue you? 

Everything intrigues me. I annoy friends, family, and not least myself with wanting to have a go at everything. One lifetime will certainly not be enough.

What impact have Natural History museums and galleries like the Horniman’s had on you and your work?

The impact that Natural History Museums have had on my work I think is plain to see. This side of my character is a bluff old traditionalist, revelling in historic hushed woody rooms full of glass cases. 


How do you hope people will react to your pieces? What would you like them to think about?

My job is to make and display the pieces, people will react individually and on their own terms. Within the show there is a comment upon the status of creativity within mainstream education, it is a small gesture but secretly I would be thrilled if this were to be noticed. 

What is next for you?

A large bear is about to be unveiled at the opening of a new MOXY hotel in Downtown New York. Also America bound is a metallic gold wolf skin which is to be exhibited in Excellence in Fibres! at the San Jose Museum until January 2019. Private commissions tend to keep me busy.

Seeing things in Black and White

Black and white, the two most basic colours that make up our universe are also those imbued with the most symbolism to humanity.

Let there be light

Diametric opposites, the contrast between black and white has fascinated us from our earliest moments. In almost all creation myths throughout human history, gods have separated the light from the dark, the white and the black, a division that has come to represent all the dichotomies that continue to fascinate us to this day – light and darkness, day and night, order and chaos, life and death.

Even in their composition, the two could not be more different. Black is formed by either a complete absence or total absorption of all visible light, while white is composed of all visible wavelengths of light. For many centuries it was actually believed that white was the basic building block of all colours but in 1666 Isaac Newton demonstrated that in fact, the reverse is true.

  • Isaac Newton, Isaac Newton proved that white light was a composite of other wavelengths by separating it with a prism
    Isaac Newton proved that white light was a composite of other wavelengths by separating it with a prism

Not so blæc and hwīt

Etymologically, both black and white come from Old English sources, the former being derivative of blæc while white has developed from hwīt. Like most words for colours in the English language, this means that the origin of these words is Germanic as opposed to Latin as is the case with Romance languages.

While English and European languages have only one word to describe black and white, several non-European languages such as Japanese and Inuit have multiple words that can describe different hues of white. Sanskrit actually has different words for specific types of white such as the white of teeth, the white of sandalwood, and the white of cow’s milk.

Black and white all over

You would think that a black and white colouration wouldn't make much sense for animals but it's more common than you think and can help for a number of reasons.

Animals that live in snowy regions such as the Arctic or high mountains almost exclusively sport white fur as a means of blending in with their surroundings which is useful for both predator and prey. You are far less likely to come across an animal that is purely black in colouration and the most famous example, the black panther, is actually a genetic mutation of leopards and panthers. An excess of melanin leads to a darker coat which has its own advantages when it comes to stalking prey explaining the continued existence of these offshoots.

  • Black Panther, Leopards can't change their spots but panthers can hide them, Pixabay CC0
    Leopards can't change their spots but panthers can hide them, Pixabay CC0

Animals that sport a combination of black and white are some of the most well known and include pandas, zebras, and penguins. It is often asked why these animals have evolved to have such an unusual combination of colours, especially as you think it would make them stand out.

Scientists still aren't totally sure what the answer is. In some cases, it might be to help them blend with their surroundings regardless of the weather, or it may even be to help other animals identify them. Badgers, for example, may sport white stripes so that even in the darkness of a burrow, predators will recognise them and be deterred from picking a fight they may not win.

Black is the new black

Although these days it is increasingly common to wear black and white clothes casually, for generations black and white have been used to mark special occasions or to show importance.

An austere black is something we have grown accustomed to seeing sported by figures of authority since the medieval period. Judges across the world often sport black gowns, and politicians are also commonly dressed in black, suggesting to us a seriousness, solemnity, humility, and clarity is at play in their thinking. From the 14th century onwards, it even became increasingly common for monarchs in Europe to favour black garments over more ostentatious colours that had previously been favoured.

Around the world though, white is typically the colour of a bride's dress during a wedding although this only became a trend Europe and the Americas following Queen Victoria's decision to wear a white gown during her own wedding. Prior to this, brides would often simply wear their best clothing regardless of colour, now though white is ubiquitous with weddings. The reserved nature of black has also made it the colour of mourning in the Western world since the Roman period, although in Africa and Asia it is more common that white is worn when attending funerals. 

  • Queen Victoria, Although her wedding dress popularised white gowns Queen Victoria is most recognisable for the black outfits she wore during her long period of mourning for Prince Albert
    Although her wedding dress popularised white gowns Queen Victoria is most recognisable for the black outfits she wore during her long period of mourning for Prince Albert

In the 19th and 20th century, black became an increasingly fashionable choice when it came to clothing. No longer simply suggesting melancholy or seriousness, black began to be viewed as a sign of elegance and sophistication. Men's formal attire for parties or ceremonies was and remains black and white, but with the creation of her "Little Black Dress" in 1926, Coco Channel made a black dress indispensable for women's wardrobes, famously saying, "A woman needs just three things; a black dress, a black sweater, and, on her arm, a man she loves."

Throwing up the white flag

In the realm of politics, black and white are not colours that are often adopted by the mainstream. The colour black and a black flag have been the traditional symbols of anarchism since the 1880s. In the middle of the 20th century, black was also adopted by a number of fascist political parties and both the paramilitary wings of the Italian National Fascist Party and British Union of Fascists were known as the “Blackshirts”.

During the political tumult of the 19th and 20th centuries white was often associated with the cause of monarchism due to the white background of the House of Bourbon of France. The White Army which was primarily composed of monarchists and liberals opposed the socialist Red Army during the Russian Civil War.

White though is most famously associated with the cause of pacifism and peaceful resistance. White flags have been used as a symbol of surrender on the battlefield since the Roman period in Europe and the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. These connections, have seen it become the colour adopted by pacifists the world over, for example, the White Rose group, a non-violent resistance group of students who opposed the crimes of Nazi Germany.

  • anarchy-8265_1920, The austere and visible nature of black and white make them a popular choice in political movements, Pixabay CC0
    The austere and visible nature of black and white make them a popular choice in political movements, Pixabay CC0

Simply Red

What do you associate with the colour red? Danger? Love? Lust? Revolution? Red is a colour that defines often contradictory ideas and it has fascinated us from our earliest times on this planet.

Red in tooth and claw

It’s very common to find red in the natural world and the colouration can be caused by a variety of things. Most obvious perhaps is our own red blood which is caused by the oxygenation of haemoglobin in red blood cells. Iron present in haemoglobin reflects red light making our blood seem red. It is very common for iron oxides to be the source of reds in the natural world, most prominently the planet Mars is red due to a coating of iron-based dust on its surface.

Plants get their red colouring from a pigment called anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are responsible for colouring plants red, purple, and blue, depending on their pH level. They give fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, raspberries, and strawberries their colour, and also influence the shades and hues of flowers such as poppies. Anthocyanins are used in photosynthesis just as chlorophyll is but it’s thought that by not giving plants green colouration it can keep herbivores away.

  • Ladybird, The red colouring of this ladybird wards off predators by telling them they're poisonous if eaten, Pixabay CC0
    The red colouring of this ladybird wards off predators by telling them they're poisonous if eaten, Pixabay CC0

It is less common to find red in the animal world, with many of the creatures we would label as “red” actually being orange in hue. There are, however, many insects, frogs, and snakes that have red exteriors. Often this is to warn off predators by highlighting the fact many of these species are poisonous either through their bites or when eaten.

Reudh, reudh wine

The connection between humans the colour red is one that is almost fundamental to our existence. Red is one of the three colours that make up the RBG model of how humans perceive the world (find out more about that in our blog on the topic). As red is at one end of the visible spectrum of light it is rare among mammals to be able to see it, many animals such as dogs cannot tell the difference between red and green for example. Primates, however, are capable of perceiving the colour which it has been suggested is so that they can tell if certain fruit has ripened enough for consumption.

Red is also one of the earliest colours to appear in human art with our ancestors potentially making use of it as far back as 700,000 years ago. An abundance of iron oxides in nature such as ochre and hematite, which are easy to find, means that even our most primitive of ancestors would have been able to produce red dyes with ease. Having ground these minerals into dust or pastes they would have coloured their bodies or used it to create artworks such as the cave paintings in the Cave of Altamira in Spain. 

  • Cave painting, Some of the earliest art in human history was made using red ochre, Pixabay CC0
    Some of the earliest art in human history was made using red ochre, Pixabay CC0

It might not shock you, therefore, to learn that red is an ancient word, its origins, in fact, being from the Proto-Indo-European word “reudh”. As the common ancestor of Indo-European languages, this meant “reudh” would have entered languages as diverse as Sanskrit, Manx, and English.

Red and dead 

As a vibrant primary colour, red often has important connotations in various religions across the globe. In the Shinto religion of Japan entrance gates to shrines called "torii" which are considered entrances to sacred and profane places are painted vermillion. It is believed to have the power to resist and expel evil which is a belief also held by the Buddhists of China who paint their temples red for just such a purpose.

  • Cardinal, Red is this cardinal's colour, Pixabay CC0
    Red is this cardinal's colour, Pixabay CC0

In Europe, red has become closely associated with the Catholic church with cardinals and the pope often adorned in red robes. This use of red is to remind congregants of the blood of Christ and the spilled blood of the martyrs of the early church. The connection to Christ likely led to the adoption of red by European royalty too. It is still common to see royalty adorned in red cloaks as a symbol of their legitimacy and power.

Talking about a revolution

In the past 200 years, red has become a colour often linked to revolution and left-leaning politics. During the French Revolution, red flags became a rallying point as a symbol of protest and a celebration of martyrdom. In the 19th century, socialists would adopt the red flag as their own and the anthem "The Red Flag" was penned by Irishman, Jim Connell, as a call to arms. These days it may be the case that politically we associate reds with communist revolutions in Russia and China, but left-wing parties in Britain and much of Europe retain their connection to the colour. 

  • Kustodiyev_bolshevik, Boris Kustodievâs work "Bolshevik" is an example of how the red flag is associated with socialist revolution, Public Domain
    Boris Kustodievâs work "Bolshevik" is an example of how the red flag is associated with socialist revolution, Public Domain

Rembrandt to Rothko 

Artists have long been fascinated by the colour red as it draws the eye and evokes such strong emotions. Red can evoke ideas of passion and love and yet for every positive connotation, there is a negative one. Passion and love can just as easily be viewed as lust and temptation or sin. Courage or bravery goes hand in hand with danger. Red robes, dresses, and blood can be seen throughout the canon of art history, but perhaps the most defining use of red in art comes from Mark Rothko's work in the 20th century. Rothko's work so often would take the form of a simple block of red paint, perhaps of a number of shades or hues, on a large canvas. For Rothko, colour was "only an instrument" he used "in expressing human emotions tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on." All of which are emotions one can express with red.

  • Rothko, For Mark Rothko, colour was "only an instrument in expressing human emotion"., Pixabay CC0
    For Mark Rothko, colour was "only an instrument in expressing human emotion"., Pixabay CC0

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues

Given everything we've just been exploring it's no wonder musicians are still obsessed with the colour red. Check out our Spotify playlist on the colour and let us know if we've missed anything off. 

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.

How a dog sees colour

Visitors to our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed will have no doubt marvelled at the contraptions allowing them to see the world as animals do.

Our exhibition gives you the chance to view the world around you not as a human but as a dog, fish, and bee may do. But why exactly do these animals see the world differently to us?

A dog’s life

It’s often suggested that dogs are colour-blind which isn’t strictly true. Dogs can see colour just not as many as humans. This is because dogs have one less type of colour-detecting cell in their eye. These cells are known as cones and whereas humans have three, dogs only have two.

Each cone is sensitive to a certain wavelength of light which sends a signal to the brain allowing us to process colour. Human eyes can detect red, green, and blue which allows us to see any colour that is a combination of these wavelengths of light. Due to only having two cones, dogs can only detect yellow and blue thus meaning they cannot tell the difference between objects that are red and green.

So if you’re pondering whether to get Rover a green jacket or a red jacket this Christmas don’t worry about it, it will all be grey to him.

  • Dog in nature, All that splendour and it can hardly tell the difference, Pixabay CC0
    All that splendour and it can hardly tell the difference, Pixabay CC0

Eye of the bee-holder

Like humans, bees are able to detect three colours and can see any colours that are a combination of them. Unlike humans, however, bees cannot detect the colour red. Instead, their photoreceptors pick up green, blue, and ultraviolet light – the latter of which is not detectable by humans.

To attract bees to nectar, flowers often have petals a different colour to their leaves so bees can tell what to target. Some flowers including sunflowers even make use of ultraviolet to attract pollinators.

Bees are particularly attracted to purple, violet, and blue, but also to a colour known as “bee’s purple” that humans cannot see as it is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet. If you were wondering what colour flowers to place in your pollinator garden there’s your answer.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, We told you they like purples, Andrea Benson
    We told you they like purples, Andrea Benson

Fish-eye view

There are plenty of fish in the sea but sadly that means we can’t make definitive statements about all fish seeing all the same colours. However, we can talk about how the way life underwater affects colour vision.

Vision underwater is obviously very different to vision above. Water absorbs light, which is why as the depth of water increases vision is swiftly impaired. Light with longer wavelengths which allow the detection of colours like orange and red, are absorbed by water much faster than light with short wavelengths, such as green, blue, and ultraviolet. This can vary of course, as different bodies of water may have different properties such as increased salinity or unique chemicals in water.

A fish that lives in shallow water will find far more use out of photoreceptors that allow it to see oranges and reds than a fish that lives in the deep ocean where these wavelengths don’t reach.

Like bees, many fish have evolved to be able to detect ultraviolet light for a number of reasons. Two-stripe damselfish, for example, have a colouration that can reflect ultraviolet light. When a predator is close they will use their colouration to warn other fish capable of seeing ultraviolet light of danger.

  • Common clownfish Amphiprion percular, Many of the fish found in shallower waters are more vibrant than their oceanic counterparts
    Many of the fish found in shallower waters are more vibrant than their oceanic counterparts

Enter the dragonfly

If you thought all of that was impressive prepare to be blown away. Humans and bees may be able to detect three different types of light, but studies of dragonflies have shown that these insects can detect no fewer than 11 wavelengths and as many as 30.

As far as we’re aware this is the most of any creature alive on earth and means that dragonflies can pick out colours we couldn’t even dream of.

  • Dragonfly, With as many as 30 photoreceptors there's no way of knowing what colours dragonflies can discern, Pixabay CC0
    With as many as 30 photoreceptors there's no way of knowing what colours dragonflies can discern, Pixabay CC0

Saffron and oranges

Orange is one of the brightest colours on the spectrum so obviously it has always captured the human imagination.

Pommes and oranges

It may not stun you to learn that the colour orange derives its name from the fruit of the same title, but where that word comes from is quite the globetrotting story.

Orange derives from Old French, in which the fruit was known as pomme d’orange, which in turn came from the Italian word arancia. Here’s where it gets confusing. Arancia is actually an adapted version of the Arabic word nāranj, which in itself is taken from the Sanskrit word naranga. Breathe.

The first recorded use of orange in the English language is in a will from 1512 which is now kept in the Public Record Office. Prior to the introduction of orange to the English language, saffron was in common use and described the colour. Most common though was the use of the words ġeolurēad and ġeolucrog which referred to a reddish orange and a yellowish orange respectively.

The King of Carrots

As well as its namesake citrus fruit, orange is a colour that in nature we often associate with autumn and tubers. Carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes are all orange and their colouration is thanks to a chemical called carotene. Carotenes are pigments that are used by plants to convert light energy into the chemical energy they need to grow. The leaves of deciduous trees turn orange in the autumn as the production of green chlorophyll ends leaving the orange pigmentation of carotene only.

Although carotene derives its name from carrots, prior to the 18th-century carrots were not orange at all. European carrots were usually white or red and carrots from Asia were purple. Orange carrots were actually bred by Dutch farmers to pay tribute to William I of Orange who had helped lead the Dutch in their independence struggle against the Spanish Habsburgs.

One side-effect of orange entering the lexicon so late is that a number of animals that are distinctly orange in colouration are often referred to as red such as foxes and squirrels. Orange may not seem an ideal colouration for these animals given they spend a lot of their time amongst green leaves, but it still provides useful camouflage amongst the brown of wooded areas.

Worth its weight in saffron

For a very long time it was difficult for orange pigments to be produced by humans in great quantities safely. From ancient times through to the middle ages, orange dyes were produced using realgar, orpiment, minium, and massicot, but these minerals are highly toxic.

Saffron was a natural source of orange pigment but proved far too expensive to be used to produce large quantities. Saffron is best known as a spice derived from the Crocus sativus (saffron crocus) and has been highly prized since the era of the Minoans at least. Saffron has always been highly prized throughout Europe and Asia for use as a spice, in perfumes, as pigment, and as medicine.

Saffron is so highly valued as it’s quite simply a case of there being too little to go around. Saffron itself is the stigma of the saffron crocus’ flower, with each flower only producing three stigmas. To put that in perspective – a pound of saffron is at least 70,000 threads. This rarity means that even in the modern day with all our intensive farming a pound of saffron can cost as much as US$5000.

As science progressed and orange pigments such as chrome orange could be made synthetically the colour took on importance for a number of artistic movements. Orange was highly popular with the Pre-Raphaelites of Britain inspired by the flowing red-orange hair of Elizabeth Siddal, a model and wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Monet, Van Gogh, and Gaugin, were also keen adopters of orange in their work. Colour theory dictated that placing orange next to blue brought out that vibrancy of both colours and so it is common to find these colours in many of the best known paintings of these movements.

  • Flaming June, Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton, a Pre-Raphaelite painter, Public Domain
    Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton, a Pre-Raphaelite painter, Public Domain

A "Glorious" colour

Due to the House of Orange-Nassau, one of the most important European royal houses in history, the political connotations of Orange are still felt across the continent. Although they are now known as the ancestors of the royal family of the Netherlands, the House of Orange-Nassau originated in the 12th century in the Principality of Orange in southern France.

The principality was not named for the fruit but rather took its name from a Roman city founded in 35BC called Arausio, for a local Celtic river god.

The Principality of Orange was inherited by William I, the son of the Count of Nassau, in 1544, who would unite the titles upon his father’s death to create the House of Orange-Nassau. William would become a particular favourite of the Habsburgs who ruled the Holy Roman Empire and was installed as governor of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht. However, outraged at the violence the Habsburgs were perpetrating against the Protestant population of the Netherlands, William would turn against his masters and lead the fledgling nation in its fight for independence during the Eight Years’ War.

  • William I, William I, Prince of Orange, Public Domain
    William I, Prince of Orange, Public Domain

Due to the actions of William of Orange, orange is now a colour associated with both the Netherlands and Protestantism. This connection between the colour orange and Protestantism in time spread to the British Isles as William’s descendant and namesake, William III of England, would depose the Catholic King James II alongside Queen Mary II during the Glorious Revolution.

To commemorate William and Mary’s victories, Protestants in Ireland adopted orange as their colour to honour the Dutchman. The orange of the Republic of Ireland’s flag represents the Protestant communities of the nation and in Northern Ireland, the Loyal Orange Institution, or Orange Order as it is more commonly known, is a Protestant and British unionist society named for William.


It is not just Protestants though who place specific importance on the colour orange. It is a hugely significant colour in both Buddhism and Hinduism too, and it is common to see monks of both religions wearing saffron robes across Asia.

In Hinduism, it is common to see Krishna adorned in saffron clothing, and the colour is associated with sacrifice, abstinence, and a search for salvation. The flag of India includes a saffron sash to represent the Hindus of the multicultural nation.

For Buddhists, saffron and orange is the colour of illumination and it was decreed by the Buddha himself that monks should wear saffron robes. Monks of the different branches of Buddhism have adopted different coloured robes, and it is the monks of Theravada Buddhism that is mainly practiced in southeast Asia that have chosen orange as their colour.

  • Buddhist Monks, Buddhist monks dye their robes not with saffron but most often with turmeric
    Buddhist monks dye their robes not with saffron but most often with turmeric

Safety first

For many of us, orange will be a colour associated primarily with safety.

Orange is the colour most easily seen in dim light or against water making it a colour that is commonly used when high-visibility is required. This has seen it used to colour lifeboats, life jackets, bridges, prisoner uniforms, and even astronaut suits.

Even black boxes used to record flight data on aeroplanes are actually coloured orange so they are easy to spot with the naked eye.

Playlist ORANGE

In recent years plenty of musical artists have turned to shades of orange for inspiration, check out our orange-themed Spotify playlist to see what we're talking about.

Whether it's Frank Ocean's debut "Chanel ORANGE" or R.E.M's more sinisterly named "Orange Crush", it's a great leaping off point for you to find out plenty more about this fascinating colour.


Don't forget though that you can learn plenty more about a whole spectrum of colours at our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed.

Exploring Colour with Jaz

Our Gardens volunteer and Horniman Youth Panel member Jaz has let us know what he enjoys the most about our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed and he hopes you'll enjoy it too.

In July 2017 I started my Bronze Arts Award when I volunteered with Chocolate Films taking photographs of museum visitors during filming for the Wall of Voices in our new World Gallery.

Recently, I visited the Colour exhibition with the Horniman Youth Panel. I played the games, tried on the camouflage costumes, and sat in the Mood Room with my shoes off. I am sharing my favourite areas of the exhibition which made me feel calm. 

  • Jaz03, The colours in the room make me feel calm and excited, Jaz
    The colours in the room make me feel calm and excited, Jaz

  • Jaz02, I like doing this as it makes me feel calm and I like water, Jaz
    I like doing this as it makes me feel calm and I like water, Jaz

  • Jaz01, This is my favourite colour, Jaz
    This is my favourite colour, Jaz

  • Jaz04, I am standing between the coloured arches because it looks nice, Jaz
    I am standing between the coloured arches because it looks nice, Jaz

  • Jaz05, The red colour gave me blurry eyes, Jaz
    The red colour gave me blurry eyes, Jaz

  • Jaz06, The green colour reminds me of being in the garden, Jaz
    The green colour reminds me of being in the garden, Jaz

By showing what I like about the exhibition, I hope other people will want to visit – it’s both exciting and calming. Even though it’s mainly for children, the exhibition still makes a 23-year-old like myself feel calm. 

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