Exhibition: World Stories: Young Voices, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Brighton, opens June 23 2012
Made as the south-east’s key museum project for London 2012, this overhaul of a splendidly exotic display could have as much local importance as it does national.
The left flank of the ground floor of Brighton’s flagship museum has been permanent to the point where few regular visitors could recall its previous incarnations. So a revision, both of the space and the way objects from one of the finest ethnographic collections in the country are presented, is perhaps overdue.
There is much to enjoy: tribal dresses, tapestries, hats, swords, canes, imposing tribal masks, rattles and graters all give a rousing feel to a global expedition with sections taking northern Canada, Iran, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Peru and the Amazon as touching points.
Among three major new acquisitions, the New Ireland Big-Mouth Fish Sculpture, which is the centrepiece of the Malagan section, is particularly fantastic – all mystique and menace under dim lights, a dramatic remnant from deathly rituals featuring a gleeful imp riding on the back of a fish.
It was made by Michael Homerang in 1993, and is positioned next to Big Fish Malagan, a piece collected by the museum in 1931 which is believed to have been carved by Homerang’s father, Silaamangaas Lauriman Lerakin.
Sometimes the conscientious, charismatic curatorial team – whose efforts on World Stories during the past few years are worthy of serious respect – visited their “source communities”. More often they negotiated and bonded with their far-flung collaborators remotely, forming partnerships which could lead to further exchanges and, hopefully, have resulted in a corridor giving a sense of their disparate cultures.
As is the mandate of the Cultural Olympiad, there’s a necessarily exhaustive level of inclusivity, which tends to give the sense of glimpsing rather than exploring each corner of the earth.
Occasionally, as in the case of a mysterious 500-year-old bag made of llama skin which was recorded (probably fancifully) as being found in the grave of an Inca princess when it was donated by a local woman decades ago, there’s a natural urge to wish each item was annotated in more detail, sating ethnography fans as much as early learners.
Not that it isn’t a joy to see these wonders. A set of Tatanua masks were made more than a century ago, worn by male dancers beating friction drums, their bodies hidden under leaves. And the extensive football section – informed by a link-up between Brighton and Bamako – is certain to hit the back of the net in the attention-keeping stakes.
More than 240 local children have helped shape this show. Their legacy is one which will allow a new generation to engage with the objects of the world.
- Open 10am-5pm (except Monday, open Bank Holidays). Admission free.