British Museum blog

Looking again…

The Expulsion from Paradise, Giulio Benso, 1610-1670


Sarah Longair, education manager, British Museum

We spend much of our time here at the Museum analysing, researching and contextualising objects and finding ways to communicate effectively with our visitors. So when the chance to bring a fresh perspective on our collection comes along, it’s always a great moment: challenging us and our visitors to think again.

Late in July, the result of an exciting collaboration between the British Museum and a group of Year 12 students from Camden School for Girls went on show in Room 90 in the display: ‘Isolation: from text to image’.

The project originated late last year, when Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, and our Schools and Young Audiences team decided to invite students to curate a display of works from the collection. We particularly wanted to encourage an innovative yet relevant approach to looking at the collection so we approached English literature students and asked them to use texts they are studying as inspiration. The literary sources, which included Hamlet, the Great Gatsby, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, John Osborne’s Look back in Anger and Keats’s poetry, would definitely give varied and intriguing possibilities through which to look at the collection.

The Expulsion from Paradise, Giulio Benso, 1610-1670.

The Expulsion from Paradise, Giulio Benso, 1610-1670.

From those who applied, an enthusiastic, inquisitive and thoughtful group of 12 students was selected to participate as an extra-curricular activity. We were very impressed by their commitment during two very busy school terms. I went to the school to deliver seminar-style sessions at the end of the school day and the group came to the Museum several times. During the Museum sessions, we discussed different approaches to drawing inspiration from images, the varied ways in which their texts related to images, how to measure and evaluate audience behaviour and practiced writing a succinct but engaging display label.

In one of the early discussion sessions, students selected ‘isolation’ as a theme which bound their texts together. From a long-list created by curators, the students selected prints and drawings to look at in the Museum’s print room.

One of the students explained how access to the original print, after seeing reproductions, was a powerful experience:

“Seeing these images gradually unfurled from their protective cloths, amid the hush of the Prints and Drawings room, is not one I will forget in a very long time.”

Left with the freedom to write creatively, they experimented in a variety of styles: in prose and poetry; as a participant in the image; from the perspective of the artist; as a character from their set text. From these various experiments, they created a final label for their selected print.

Together they decided how to arrange the works – an exercise in diplomacy for all concerned – and joined in with hanging them. One of them described their overall experience:

“The result is an exhibition that is incredibly varied. You will find a drawing by the seventeenth century Italian artist Giulio Benso beside modern artists such as Isidoro Ocampo and George Bellows. Linking such images to set texts has proved fascinating – even with prints and drawings that appeared to have concrete interior storylines, it was possible to illustrate our individual responses to our chosen texts, whether through creative or analytical writing.

If our accompanying texts make you look again at the image we have been describing, we’ve done our job. The result is an exhibition that is not only the culmination of an incredible learning process, but also one of which we are all genuinely proud.”

We were extremely impressed by the students’ thoughtful interpretations which really do make you look again at the image. We’d like to thank them for their commitment to this unique project and we hope that visitors will also be excited by this fresh perspective on the collection from these young writers.

Isolation: from text to image is on display in Room 90 until 3 September 2012

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Filed under: At the Museum, Collection

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. ritaroberts says:

    This sounds like a very interesting project with a worthwhile result.

    Like

  2. beeseeker says:

    What a fantastic and truly worthwhile concept, my congratulations to all involved.

    Like

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For our final #MuseumInstaSwap post we’re highlighting the 'Make Do and Mend' campaign of the Second World War, as told by our partner @ImperialWarMuseums in their #FashionontheRation exhibition.

The campaign was launched to encourage people to make their existing supplies of clothes last longer. Posters and leaflets were circulated with advice on subjects including how to prevent moth damage to woollens, how to make shoes last longer or how to care for different fabrics. As the war went on, buying new was severely restricted by coupon limits and no longer an option for many people. The ability to repair, renovate and make one's own clothes became increasingly important. Although shoppers would have to hand over coupons for dressmaking fabric as well as readymade clothes, making clothes was often cheaper and saved coupons. ‘Make Do and Mend’ classes took place around the country, teaching skills such as pattern cutting. Dress makers and home sewers often had to be experimental in their choice of fabrics. Despite disliking much of the official rhetoric to Make Do and Mend, many people demonstrated great creativity and adaptability in dealing with rationing. Individual style flourished. Shortages necessitated imaginative use of materials, recycling and renovating of old clothes and innovative use of home-made accessories, which could alter or smarten up an outfit. Many women used furnishing fabrics for dressmaking until these too were rationed. Blackout material, which did not need points, was also sometimes used. Parachute silk was highly prized for underwear, nightclothes and wedding dresses.

We've really enjoyed working with and learning from our friends at @imperialwarmuseums this week. You can catch up on all our posts and discover many more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 4773 For #MuseumInstaSwap we’re discovering the street style of the Second World War in the #FashionontheRation exhibition at @ImperialWarMuseums. In this archive photo a female member of the Air Raid Precautions staff applies her lipstick between emergency calls.

In wartime Britain it was unfashionable to be seen wearing clothes that were obviously showy, yet women were frequently implored not to let 'standards' slip too far. There was genuine concern that a lack of interest in personal appearance could be a sign of low morale, which could have a detrimental impact on the war effort. The government's concern for the morale of women was a major factor in the decision to continue the manufacture of cosmetics, though in much reduced quantities. Make-up was never rationed, but was subject to a luxury tax and was very expensive. Many cosmetics firms switched some of their production to items needed for the war effort. Coty, for example, were known for their face powder and perfumes but also made army foot powder and anti-gas ointment. Make-up and hair styles took on an increased importance and many women went to great lengths to still feel well-dressed and stylish even if their clothes were last season's, their stockings darned and accessories home-made. As with clothing, women found creative ways around shortages, with beetroot juice used for a splash of lip colour and boot polish passing for mascara.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap © IWM (D 176) In the @ImperialWarMuseums exhibition ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s street style’ we can see how men and women found new ways to dress while clothing was rationed. Displays of original clothes from the era, from military uniforms to utility underwear, reveal what life was really like on the home front in wartime Britain.

Despite the limitations imposed by rationing, clothing retailers sought to retain and even expand their customer base during the Second World War. Britain's high street adapted in response to wartime conditions, and this was reflected in their retail ranges. The government intervened in the mass manufacture of high street fashions with the arrival of the Utility clothing scheme in 1942. Shoppers carefully spent their precious clothing coupons and money on new clothes to make sure their purchases would be suitable across spring, summer and autumn and winter. Despite the restrictions, the war and civilian austerity did not put an end to creative design, commercial opportunism or fashionable trends on the British home front.

#FashionontheRation exhibition runs @imperialwarmuseums until 31 August.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. For our final day of #MuseumInstaSwap we’re learning about the Second World War @ImperialWarMuseums, and discovering the impact of the war on ordinary people. 
Clothes were rationed in Britain from 1 June 1941. This limited the amount of new garments people could buy until 1949, four years after the war's end. The British government needed to reduce production and consumption of civilian clothes to safeguard raw materials and release workers and factory space for war production. As with food rationing, which had been in place since 1940, one of the reasons for introducing civilian clothes rationing was to ensure fairness. Rationing sought to ensure a more equal distribution of clothing and improve the availability of garments in the shops.

As this poster shows, the rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a 'points' value which varied according to how much material and labour went into its manufacture. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man's shirt or a pair of trousers. Women's shoes meant relinquishing five coupons, and men's footwear cost seven coupons. When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a 'points' value as well as money. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 8293) This week on @instagram we’ve joined up with other London museums to highlight our shared stories. Our partner is @imperialwarmuseums, whose incredible collection brings people’s experiences of modern war and conflict to life. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some of the intriguing historical connections we have found, as well as insights into everyday life during wartime. As part of our #MuseumInstaSwap with @ImperialWarMuseums, we’ve been given special access to the Churchill War Rooms – located deep below the streets of Westminster.
This is Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s bedroom, which includes his private desk, briefcase and papers, his bed and chamber pot and even an original cigar! The bedroom is located close to the Map Room, keeping Churchill as close as possible to the epicentre of Cabinet War Rooms.
Following the surrender of the Japanese Forces the doors to the War Rooms were locked on 16 August 1945 and the complex was left undisturbed until Parliament ensured its preservation as a historic site in 1948. Knowledge of the site and access to it remained highly restricted until the late 1970s when @ImperialWarMuseums began the task of preserving the site and its contents, making them accessible to as wide an audience as possible and opening them to the public in 1984.
Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap
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