Visit to the Horniman Museum, 21 April 2012

We all met at 13:30hrs, though most of the Council members were there already, having had a business meeting in the cafe previously.  Dr Helen Carr opened the proceedings with a number teasing questions as to why the Horniman Museum was there, the heritage of the Victorian collectors, the aim and purpose of the collection today, starting from her memory of "being brought here as a London school child, and it being your architypical dry as dust museum".  We debated the displays and the general educational thrust; the relationship of the ethnographic with the natural history collections; and local relevance. 

Then on the first of the five minute introductions to specific items - Nic Carlyle's introduction to the African concept of magical belly through a particular carving. Fuller details (and sketch!) are here.  

Ruth Carlyle gave a talk about fabric stamps. She looked at a stamp made out of a gourd. to produce a Ghanaian printed fabric called adinkra. Explaining the symbolism and the technique, she gave an insight into the limitations of catalogue description.

Following on, Dr. Christian Clerk introduced the South Pacific Islands (corroborated by the insights of Dr. Margaret Taylor) and the Maori items. The etymological breakdown of Maori names for things and places was fascinating. In particular, I enjoyed finding out about how 'real' greenstone tikis retain the hint of a straight edge on one side of the carving.

Dr. Rosalind Janssen talked about one of her abiding childhood memories of the Horniman - a jar filled with a pickled, dissected cat. It had terrified both herself and her brother: they used to dare each other to pass it, when it stood as an unavoidable sentinel at the end of a long mezzanine gallery. The item has since gone, and Rosalind used it as an example of changing museum sensibilities.

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Visit to the Horniman Museum: an ancestor carving (ekpu) of Ibibio (SE Nigerian) origin, introducing the concept of 'magical belly'. Click this box for details.