The Victorian tea trader, Frederick Horniman had a love of all things anthropological. During his extensive travels to Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Japan, Egypt, Canada and the United States he collected many objects and specimens ‘illustrating natural history and the arts and handicrafts of various peoples of the world’.
Wanting to enrich the lives of his local community and ‘to bring the world to Forest Hill’ he put his staggering collection of artefacts on public display, eventually opening a dedicated museum designed by Charles Harrison Townsend in 1901.
The ethos of this free gift to the people continues today. The collection of international curiosities has grown to 350,000 objects, covering everything from music to natural history, including its 130-year-old walrus.
The Horniman Museum even has it’s own aquarium and Butterfly House and is set within 16 acres of green space that include dye and medicinal gardens, and an animal walk.
Brining Horniman’s ‘wider mission to encourage appreciation of the world, its peoples and their cultures, and its environments’ into the 21st century, the historic South Hall has been revamped to house over 3,000 objects in a contemporary gallery layout.
Here in the World Gallery, the lives of ordinary people and everyday activities become paramount. Objects telling the stories of what it means to be human reveal rituals of indigenous people, religious beliefs from around the globe and our connection to the environment, as well as highlighting contemporary issues from climate change to migration.
To give context to the displays, the World Gallery will be separated into four interconnected spaces. The Introductory area will reveal the emotional and cultural importance of objects; Encounters will focus on the way people live in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Europe; Perspectives explores what anthropology is and how we categorise the world around us and Horniman’s Vision gives an overview of the museum and its founder.
You’ll be able to discover aboriginal paintings that pay homage to the revitalising wet seasons. See a fishing canoe from the Solomon Islands. Take fashion inspiration from Polish folk costumes. Imagine what it would be like to use a Chilkat blanket from the Pacific Northwest Coast that is woven from mountain goat wool and cedar bark. Or learn about the artefacts used in wedding and funeral ceremonial rituals.
There will also be multi-sensory interactive exhibits that will no doubt entertain and fascinate the younger museum visitor.
Here are our highlights of this intriguing collection.
Interactive Lagos Market Stall – Nigeria
Lagos-based photographer Jide Odukoya captured one of the largest street markets in Nigeria especially for the World Gallery. His film and photography of the Eko Market has inspired an interactive display that brings the hustle and bustle of the market which supplies shoppers with all manner of items to Forest Hill.
Hair Tubes – Waiwai, Guianas
Müisó (hair tubes) are only worn by Waiwai men and boys who live in Guyana and northern Brazil as a way of asserting their masculinity. The hair ornaments are made from bamboo that’s decorated with beads and feathers, the latter reflecting how the Waiwai people consider themselves to be like birds.
Nang Talung puppets – Thailand
The Nang Talung shadow puppets come from the south of Thailand and are used to tell the Ramakien story which dates from the Thai royal court of the 18th century. Through characters that include the hero Phra Ram, a monkey Hanuman, farmers, clowns and ghosts, the story is an allegory on evil being triumphed over by good.
Story bags and Ghostnet Baskets – Australia
Beach pollution is a major environmental issue that massively impacts the lives of indigenous Australians who have a spiritual appreciation and relationship to Country. This story bag from Queensland is made from recycled plastic wrappers and illustrates how recycling can carry a message, but also be creative.
The prow of Boat 195 – Italy and the Mediterranean
This display of painted wood is a potent symbol of the ongoing migration crisis around the world as it’s actually the bow of a boat that carried 253 people from Libya who were all seeking refuge in the EU. The Horniman acquired it so the story of people who make the treacherous Mediterranean crossing could be told.
Horniman Museum & Gardens New World Gallery opens June 29, 2018.
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