World Stories: Brighton Museum and Art Gallery opens permanent Young Voices gallery

By Ben Miller | 20 June 2012
A photo of a carving of a tribal sculpture showing a kind of imp riding on top of a fish
Michael Homerang, Big-Mouth Fish Sculpture (circa 1993). Soft wood (probably Alstonia), sea snail shell, natural pigment paint, lime, charcoal, earth ochres
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.

A photo of a sculpture of a tribal wooden mask-like figure
Big Fish Malagan (circa 1925-1930). Possibly carved by Silaamangaas Lauriman Lerakin, donated to Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 1931
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.

More pictures:

A photo of a man looking at a tribal mask being help up by a gloved hand
Mike Addison encounters a Tatanua mask from New Ireland
A photo of a curator wearing a purple glove examining a sculpture in gold and purple
A young curator takes a look at a glazed, gilded tile from Iran, probably Kashan, dating from 1260-1300
A photo of two young Asian women wearing colourful costumes and holding drinks
Young Kachin women from the Lisu (Putao) minority, photographed at the 2011 Manau festival, Myitkyina, Kachin State, Burma
A photo of a ring-like sculpture in white with a black drawing of tribal figures on it
Engraved walrus bone showing huntsmen in an umiak (open boat). Alaska (19th century)
A photo of an ancient tribal bag made out of a blotchy white material with a red strap
A bag from Peru (1532-1700). Leather (probably llama), wool, cotton, shell
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