Friday, 22 February 2013

An Evening of Striptease, Carnival & Forest Spirits

We hosted our second After Hours event on Wednesday. Entry to the Museum after 4.30 is via our South Door down Robinson Close off South Parks Road. It can be hard to find for those not familiar with it, so our technician Jon designed a top-storey sign to help visitors navigate to us in the dusk!

Mike O'Hanlon gives an illustrated talk about display in PNG
The theme this time was 'Masquerade and Performance' and visitors were treated to a talk by the Museum's Director, Dr Michael O'Hanlon, on the elaborate ceremonies of the Wahgi people of Highland New Guinea, amongst whom he conducted first-hand anthropological fieldwork some years ago. Enticingly entitled 'Striptease', it was fascinating to hear about the way the putting on and taking off of colourful costume, dance, shiny skin and expensive bird feather headdresses carry so much social meaning among the various clans who live there.

Also on hand were members of Sol Samba, Oxford's vibrant Brazilian carnival act. Even with just three performers, they still managed to whip up a torrent of invigorating sounds with their drums. After a demo and explanation of the history and tradition of the maracatu genre from northern Brazil, they encouraged visitors to get involved by having a go with the instruments.

Sol Samba get into the rhythm

We see these evening as great opportunities to showcase some of our recently digitised sound and film collections. In 2009, the Museum acquired an 8mm film shot in Ladakh, Tibet by Major Peter Hailey during his service there in the Second World War. The footage shows various scenes of the people and landscape, including the courtyard at Hemis Buddhist monastery where the 'cham' (masked dance) representing the eight forms of the guru Padmasambhava is performed to a large crowd. You can see the whole film here (18 mins).

Setting up the film in the galleries and a scene from the 'cham' dance

Ejengi spirit dance at Mongeng√© village (PRM: 1997.21.3.6)
Our ethnomusicologist Noel Lobley created a great soundtrack for the evening, featuring 'ejengi' music from the Central African Republic. Ejengi is a Bayaka spirit summoned to dance at initiation ceremonies that can last for months. The sounds represent ejengi emerging from his lair, men and women singing polyphonic songs, and leaves 'popping' in the forest. The 'spirit', dressed in plant fibre, assumes a myriad of dance forms - charging at singers, collapsing to the ground, and spinning like a waterfall. This music comes from more than 1000 hours of soundscapes that form the Museum's Louis Sarno Collection of Bayaka recordings. 

Finally, a themed quiz sent visitors off in search of masks, instruments and puppets in the gallery...

Here are the answers to the quiz:
'George Washington' puppet made
 for a performance Wilkinson gave
for Eleanor Roosevelt in the USA
(PRM 1985.36.18)

1. Name the New Ireland mortuary ceremony at which tatanua masks are worn?

2. In Japanese Noh plays, what feature of a mask denotes a female character’s emotional state – its colour, hair or expression? 
The hair.

3. Can you find and name the four ‘Peep Show’ puppets made and toured around England by Walter Wilkinson in the 1920s and 30s? 
'Russian woman', 'George Washington', 'Sally' and 'Professor'.
Walter Wilkinson was a leading figure in the revival of puppet theatre in England and toured on foot with his handcart containing his camp and a dozen hand-made glove puppets and props.

4. The open-mouth ‘aopa’ drum from Papua New Guinea uses a skin membrane from which animal?
Monitor lizard.

5. What kind of trumpet was used at the Italian festival of Piedigrotta?
Shell trumpet

CONGRATULATIONS to Mrs C. Strudwick who was picked at random from the quiz entrants and got the answers right. You win an Australian Aboriginal rain-shaker!

We'll be holding these evening openings on the third Wednesday of the month - they are a great chance for you to experience the Museum in a different, more relaxed, child-free atmosphere with a light programme of activities or entertainments. What's more they are totally FREE! We're looking forward to our next After Hours on Wednesday, 20 March where we will be launching the results of our 'Reel to Real' sound archive project. See you there!

Monday, 18 February 2013

New member of VERVE team gets to task with masks

This week, an update from our newest member of the team!

Hi, I’m Sian, the VERVE project Curatorial Assistant. I have been working at the Pitt Rivers Museum in the Collections department for 6 years, cataloguing everything from amulets to spinning wheels. I am lucky that every day I work with different objects that have different stories and I am looking forward to uncovering even more of the Museum’s amazing collections during the course of the project.

So, what have I been up to so far? This week I have been cataloguing Mexican and Guatemalan secular dance masks. 'Cataloguing' is a museum term that covers several procedures to ensure we have all the details we ned about any given object. So it involves photographing and measuring the object, adding a detailed description to our database, and noting the object’s condition. Some of masks are very striking - they have piercing painted glass eyes and realistic looking teeth made from recycled porcelain sherds.

PRM 1951.11.17

Some dance masks were made to represent cultural stereotypes or figures from colonial history. The mask below is said to represent Pedro de Alvarado, a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala in the 1530s.

PRM 1951.11.13


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Four-sidedness: boxes, houses and coffins

We continue to prepare the ground for the completion of the lighting installation and other VERVE redisplay plans by moving and re-homing material. Museum conservator Andrew has provided the following update:

Firstly, the large music collection, removed from the Upper Gallery some weeks ago, has now been re-housed in its new home at our off-site storage facility. It took some time to get the space ready due to issues relating to environmental suitability, management and the logistics of ordering enough shelving for 400+ objects and transporting them, but the task is now complete!

Next was the move of the second model house from Papua New Guinea. These were collected in 1888 by H. H. Romilly and were presented by A.W. Franks to the Museum in 1893 so they are old and important ethnographic objects. 

This second house is labeled: 'Model of a pile dwelling Motu Tribe, S.E. New Guinea'. It's not known how long it has been above the wall cases in the Court, but probably more than 70 years. The houses are made from palm wood and palm leaves which are very fragile and easily damaged, and it was not possible to clean them safely in situ. They were moved to the Conservation lab where we have been cleaning and stabilizing them before they return to new, more visible locations in the Court.

Technician Alan getting ready to move the model house

What 70 years of dust looks like! 

The model palm houses in the lab. The difference between
the cleaned one (foreground, PRM 1893.42.3) and the
dusty one (PRM 1893.42.2) behind it, is marked.

Andrew shows the difference a careful hoovering job can make

Lastly, as the Made for Trade exhibition was dismantled after its successful run, the specially-commissioned Ghanaian coffin from the Kane Kwei fantasy coffin workshop in Accra has been moved to a new position in the Court, above the introductory case on the left as you come down the entrance steps. Painted with product advertisements to make it look like a shop front, it makes a colourful and attractive addition to the newly lit upper levels of display.

Friday, 1 February 2013

After Hours & Meet the Team

So, it's been a busy week as the VERVE team settle into their new roles, phone calls have been made, meetings arranged and real progress made. On Wednesday we hosted our first ever After Hours event, focussing on South and Central America and seventy people ventured into the Museum after the sun went down.

After Hours events will happen each month. It's your chance to enjoy the Museum of an evening, away from the hordes, and you'll also be able to take advantage of a free, themed programme such as talks, music, or screenings (and, as it's the Pitt Rivers, tea and biscuits) or you can simply enjoy the Museum at your own pace.

Next month's will be on Wednesday 20 Feb with a theme of Performance and Masquerade
See the website for more details.

Fig Roll Anyone?

It's also good to put name to a face so let's introduce you to the team...

I'm Maya - the new VERVE Project Activities and Outreach Officer. Previously an Education Officer at Science Oxford, I have experience running design and technology related workshops and activities and make stained glass and mosaic art as a hobby, so am a great fan of all things craft-related! We're kicking off the outreach element of the project with the creation of a Pitt Rivers pop-up tent which will be designed and customised in time for the festival season starting in May. More details to follow so watch this space!

GRRR - I'm Nicky, I'm the VERVE Volunteers Manager. I've worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum as Executive Research Assistant for the past 3 years. Before that I was an Interpretation Officer at the Museum of Reading and before that I worked at the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors in China as an Interpretation Officer. I'm looking forward to welcoming new volunteers to take part in our exciting range of activities and offering them the support needed to ensure they have a great experience at the Pitt Rivers. 

If you are reading this and are thinking "I'd like to volunteer" then why not send me a quick email.

I'm Drew - the new VERVE project Communications Officer. I've previously done all kinds of things, from organising and promoting music festivals, to starting and running underground an supper club as well as running a small PR & Marketing agency my personal job highlight has to be being santa for a weekend. (ahem - I mean santa's helper). Looking for a new challenge, and being a regular visitor to 'The Pitt' I'm really excited about being here, and even more excited about what's happening in and out of museum over the coming year. Outside of work I love drinking coffee, walking my puppy and buying (too much) vinyl.

And finally, I'm Helen, the VERVE Project Curator / Engagement Officer. I've been lucky enough to work at the Pitt Rivers for six years and every time I tell people where I work it makes feel all warm and glowy inside when they say how much they love the Museum. My research and interpretation work has been varied, from putting together new displays of guns and Aboriginal art, to writing audio tour scripts, setting up social media initiatives and going out to film artists and experts. I've long wanted to work in the cultural sector and spent a good few years juggling studying, volunteering and waitressing. After a lucky break at the V&A, I wound up at the Pitt, my favourite childhood museum. I'm really excited about VERVE and all the things we're going to achieve - new resources, new activities, new audiences - a new era for the Museum. When I'm not here I enjoy the outdoors, pubs, soppy films, and singing loudly and badly in my little yellow car.