World Stories: Young Voices, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Pavilion Gardens, opens Saturday, June 23 (From The Argus)
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World Stories: Young Voices, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Pavilion Gardens, opens Saturday, June 23
Too many museums are out of reach for young people. That is the view of Helen Mears, the keeper of world art at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, whose new permanent exhibition space aims to resolve the problem.
She believes the best way to tempt in a younger audience, those aged between 14 and 24, a museum’s so-called “holy grail”, is to get them involved in deciding what goes on display.
“Rather than seeing them as consumers, we have worked with them as producers. They have helped inform choices about what objects go in. They have also created their own sculptures and film for the gallery.”
The new space is downstairs in the museum. You walk through a 20th-century art and design gallery into a once dark terracotta corridor, cramped with dark cases. The area previously held world art and has been stripped out and refurbished with bright colours as part of the £400,000 redevelopment.
The grandiosely titled Mears says picking what to show from the museum’s 13,000-strong “internationally important” ethnographic collection and what to commission was the challenge.
She had the help of 16- to 18-year-olds who are not in formal education.
“What’s on display is always a tiny proportion of what we have.
“Some things are more interesting for research purposes than they are to see. For example, we have a collection of flints, which might not be the most exciting display.
“But there is a necklace made from peccary teeth, head-dresses made from macaw feathers, a bracelet made of caiman teeth and flutes made from the wing-bones of a condor.”
It’s hard to disagree when she calls them “an incredible use of materials”.
There are 160 objects on show, and one of the displays is temporary and will rotate every six months.
The aim was to choose things that carry a message and inform about places off the tourist track. Among the new acquisitions is a glamorous bejewelled dress made by San Bawk Ra.
Her design, in the Kachin style, is inspired by 21st-century Burmese pop stars and aims to show how festive dress links people to their traditional roots.
It dovetails with a video Mears made with Burmese ethnic minority groups in Burma to explore the significance of the Manau festival in difficult political times.
“We also work with a lot of people from source communities and where we have objects from New Island or Burma or the Arctic, we worked with members from those communities on interpreting the objects.
“We have some firsthand accounts of what those objects mean to those communities.”
That’s because, as Mears explains, “much of our permanent collection came through the prism of colonialism.
“It’s been important to portray cultures as vibrant and relevant and filled with people dealing with modern experiences.
“Where we felt we could bring a historical story up to date, we have done so.”
There is fishing and hunting equipment from the Arctic and carved objects from walrus ivory. New additions to complement these objects are sculpture and prints by 21st-century Arctic artists.
“We have been working with two groups from Inuit communities, largely the elders, who recorded their own films of them looking and discussing what those objects mean to their communities.”
Other curios include a narwhal’s tusk, which is a metre and a half long and probably from the 19th century.
There are six principal themes, one of which is to highlight the importance of football in people’s lives.
Brighton And Hove Albion defender Inigo Calderon made a video with students and the club’s charitable arm, Albion In The Community, for the display.
“Football is shown as a shared passion and vehicle for aspiration in Brighton and Mali,” explains Mears.
World Stories is part of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad programme.
* Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, closed Mondays (except bank holidays, 10am to 5pm), free. Call 03000 290900