Exhibitions and events
What’s on at the British Museum in 2021?

2021 is packed with show-stopping exhibitions. Here’s a run through of our major exhibition and free displays highlights.

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Special exhibitions
The Citi exhibition Arctic: culture and climate

Available online

Kiliii Yuyan (b. 1979), Umiaq and north wind during spring whaling. Inkjet print, 2019.
© Kiliii Yuyan.

Home to rich cultures for nearly 30,000 years, the Arctic is far from the inhospitable hinterland it is often imagined to be. From mammoth ivory sculpture, to modern refitted snow mobiles, the objects in this immersive exhibition reveal the creativity and resourcefulness of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. But the dramatic loss of ice caused by climate change is testing their adaptive capacities and threatening their way of life.

What happens in the Arctic will affect us all and this exhibition is a timely reminder of what the world can learn from its people.

Explore online >

Lead supporter Citi

Supported by
Julie and Stephen Fitzgerald
AKO Foundation

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint

20 May – 22 August 2021
The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery, Room 35

Alabaster sculpture showing the murder of Thomas Becket, about 1450, England.

Discover the murder that shook the Middle Ages in this dramatic exhibition about the life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket. On 29 December 1170, Becket was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights with close ties to King Henry II, an act that left Medieval Europe reeling.

Marking the 850th anniversary of his brutal murder, this exhibition presents Becket’s tumultuous journey from merchant’s son to archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII more than 350 years later. Get up close to the man, the murder and the legend through an incredible array of objects – from an entire medieval stained glass window to jewellery, sacred reliquaries and illuminated manuscripts, some of which include eyewitness accounts of the murder.

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Supported by
The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation
The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts
Jack Ryan and Zemen Paulos

Nero: the man behind the myth

27 May – 24 October 2021
The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, Room 30

Marble bust of Nero. Italy, around AD 55. Photo by Francesco Piras. With permission of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali e per il Turismo ̶ Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari.

Nero is known as one of Rome’s most infamous rulers, notorious for his cruelty, debauchery and madness. The last male descendant of the emperor Augustus, he succeeded to the throne in AD 54 aged just 16 and died a violent death at 30. His turbulent reign saw the Boudicca rebellion in Britain and the Great Fire of Rome, the execution of his own mother and first wife, grand projects and extravagant excesses.

Through some 200 spectacular objects, from the imperial palace in Rome to the streets of Pompeii, you can follow the young emperor’s rise and fall and make up your own mind about Nero. Was he a young, inexperienced ruler trying his best in a divided society, or the merciless, matricidal megalomaniac history has painted him to be?

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Supported by bp

Peru: a journey in time

11 November 2021 – 20 February 2022
The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery, Room 35

Miniature gold llama figurine, Peru, Incan, about 1500.

The mountains of the central Andes in Peru, South America, are one of the most geographically rich and diverse regions in the world.

To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the independence of Peru in 2021, this exhibition will highlight the history, beliefs and cultural achievements of the different peoples who lived in these remarkable landscapes from 2000 BC to the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s, and the importance of their continual legacy up until today.

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Supported by PROMPERÚ

Organised with the Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything

30 September 2021 – 30 January 2022
Room 90

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Dragon-head Kannon, from Banmotsu ehon daizen zu (Illustrations for The Great Picture Book of Everything). Block-ready drawing, ink on paper, Japan, 1820s-40s. Purchase funded by the Theresia Gerda Buch Bequest, in memory of her parents Rudolph and Julie Buch, with a contribution from Art Fund.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is considered by many to be Japan’s greatest artist, and has been recognised internationally since the Japonisme era of the 1870s, two decades after his death. This exhibition will showcase for the first time a series of recently acquired “lost” drawings by Hokusai. The 103 drawings are a major discovery and are especially significant as they come from a period in the artist’s career where he was previously thought to have created relatively little, therefore adding greatly to our understanding of Hokusai’s life and works.

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Supported by The Asahi Shimbun

Free exhibitions and displays
Reflections: contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa

17 May – 15 August 2021
Room 90

Huda Lutfi (b. 1948), Al-Sitt and her Sunglasses. Mixed media, 2008. Funded by CaMMEA.

Featuring around 100 works on paper, the majority of which have been collected by the British Museum during the past decade, this exhibition presents artists from across the Middle East and North Africa who reflect on their own societies, all of which have experienced extraordinary changes in living memory. The exhibition themes highlight issues of gender, identity, faith, and politics while also exploring how the past interacts with the present.

From Iranian artist Marcos Grigorian’s nude sketches demonstrating the importance of figural art, to art associated with the Syrian uprisings, it challenges perceptions of the artistic traditions of the region, and through the prism of personal experience, the artists present us with a refracted image of a region. There is no one narrative here, but a multiplicity of stories.

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Supported by the Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art (CaMMEA) acquisitions group

We look forward to welcoming you to the Museum!

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Can’t get to London? The Museum has a number of touring exhibitions, which you can see at our partner venues – find out what’s on nationally here and internationally here.