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Curator’s Diary, September 2017: CIPEG Meeting in Chicago

Last week I attended the annual meeting of CIPEG (International Committee for Egyptology, ICOM) at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago thanks to a travel grant provided by the Art Fund. The four-day meeting was focused on ‘The Role of Curators in Museum Research and Exhibits: Tradition, Change, and Looking to the Future’ and was a valuable opportunity to share insights into the presentation of ancient Egyptian and Sudanese material in museum contexts worldwide. The Oriental Institute was the perfect setting, with an impressive Egyptological collection derived from many of the same sites as material now in Manchester. The programme also included visits to the Egyptian Consulate and Chicago’s vast Field Museum.

Tut-Chicago

A restored colossus of Tutankhamun (reused by Aye & Horemheb) overlooks the galleries at the Oriental Institute

I gave a paper about our work here using new ways of engaging visitors during our award-winning ‘Animal Mummies Revealed’ exhibition tour, emphasising the importance of ‘in-person’ research and presentation (such as our ‘Mummy Re-Rolling’ events) and the (often underestimated) role of the curator as a performer and animator. I also spoke about the experience of working with Syrian artist Zahed Taj-Eddin on his installation ‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’. Zahed’s work juxtaposes ancient material culture with modern political commentary to powerful effect. Using such contemporary art as a way to approach the contentious subject of modern migration in Europe seemed to strike a particular chord with colleagues in other institutions that did not normally address such issues.

Nefermaat

Partly restored paste-inlay relief of Prince Nefermaat in the OI; another section of this unusually decorated chapel is in Manchester

Other papers included reports on upcoming exhibitions and ongoing research projects; a particularly promising update concerned a proposed archival photography installation at the site magazine in Tanis in the north eastern Delta, with the aim of opening dialogue with local people. A very useful panel session, with speakers drawn from a variety of curatorial backgrounds, focussed on the main themes of the conference. Despite the obvious diversity of modern curatorial roles – which seemed to have more to do with the size of an institution than anything else – participants were united by a common enthusiasm to share Egyptology with others. The vexed question of the display of human remains – focusing on research in Leiden, where the Rijksmuseum no longer shows unwrapped mummies – received some lively debate. Perhaps of interest to students wishing to pursue a career in museum Egyptology, there was no consensus on the necessity of museological training for curators, with some advocating on-the-job training for Egyptologists while others favoured specific study of museological methods to enable (for example) effective drafting of interpretation text.

CIPEG group 1

Participants of CIPEG 2017

CIPEG is a unique forum for discussion, with shared challenges across national borders and sizes of institutions. In the context of the threat to sites in Egypt to supply the black market in antiquities, the General Assembly of CIPEG’s endorsement of the recent ‘Florence Declaration’ on cultural heritage seemed particularly important.  Increasingly, curators are challenging the colonial context of many collections (especially through the use of archival material) and even questioning the modern construction of a monolithic ‘Ancient Egypt’ itself. It remains to be seen to what extent new thinking and results in academic Egyptology can filter through to interpretation that museum visitors will actually engage with.

The next meeting of CIPEG will, for the first time in the UK, be held at Swansea’s Egypt Centre in September 2018.

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Journeys across the sea and beyond: talking about current issues at Manchester Museum

Learning at Manchester Museum

You might notice on your next visit to the Museum that we have some new additions to our displays.

Our curators are thinking a lot about contemporary collecting and how we as an organisation respond to current issues such as climate change and migration.

Some of our new installations might raise some complex feelings in some of your pupils, so we wanted you to be aware in advance of some of the things you may encounter on your visit and suggest how you might want to utilise these objects to start conversations with your pupils about the issues they highlight.

Refugee Lifejacket

Life jacket from Lesvos on display at Manchester Museum Refugee’s lifejacket from Lesvos in the entrance of Manchester Museum

For example, a refugee’s lifejacket, from the Greek island of Lesvos,  has recently gone on display in the main entrance. As Bryan Sitch, a curator here, has said:

“Our mission is to promote understanding between different cultures and to work towards…

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Raising Aspirations: Exploring Ancient Egyptian Art

Great work on Egyptian art from our Learning Team

Learning at Manchester Museum

img_5110I was recently contacted by a teacher from Tameside College’s  Aspirations Department (I love that there is such a department exists!) who teaches  a group of young people with learning disabilities (aged 16-20) on an Entry level 2 study programme.  They have been studying a BTEC unit titled Exploring Art,  where they had to plan and produce a piece of art within 15 weeks.

“In order to get some ideas and inspiration we visited Manchester Museum and as a result of that the learners chose Ancient Egypt as their theme. After viewing what the Museum had on display the students came up with some marvellous ideas.  Each learner made a mood board displaying their idea and the tools and equipment they planned on using to create their piece of art work and finally creating their own piece: the results were fantastic.”

Their teacher was really pleased to be able to share these images of the process…

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by | February 20, 2017 · 2:59 pm

New year, new job!

Manchester Museum welcomes Dr Lidija McKnight on three-month secondment as Project Curator

Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank

Well, here we are at the start of a new year! The time seems to fly by, especially in the world of museums when the continual cycle of exhibitions seems relentless. This is particularly evident this year as I have started a three-month secondment at Manchester Museum, during which I will be working as Project Curator alongside Campbell Price, the Curator of Egypt and Sudan. I have worked with the Museum for many years now, both as a researcher on the collections and on the recent ‘Gifts for the Gods’ exhibition, so it feels strangely comforting to now have a desk there! Knowing all the staff (just about!) has made it much easier to fit in and everyone has been really welcoming.

‘Gifts for the Gods’ has been really successful at World Museum Liverpool, with lots of good feedback on the design, content and themes. On Saturday 28th January, Campbell…

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by | January 17, 2017 · 8:13 pm

The most precious of gifts

Today is the 12th day of Christmas – on which traditionally I receive all manner of gifts from my true love – so many leaping lords, drummers and milkmaids, I’m not sure where I’m going to keep the…

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“If a crocodile has sex with her…” Lecture by Dr Luigi Prada, 13/1/17

To close our season of events in conjunction with the touring exhibition, ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’:

rylands-croc-image

If a crocodile has sex with her…”: Animals between magic, religion, and divination in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

Dr Luigi Prada, University of Oxford

2pm, Friday 13th January, Collections Study Centre, Manchester Museum

Book here

Animals played a huge role not only in the practical daily life of the ancient Egyptians, but also in their intellectual and spiritual life, especially in the Graeco-Roman Period.

Whilst we may be familiar with their overall role in Egyptian cults, there are aspects which remain often unknown outside the specialists’ circle–such as, for instance, the fact that sacred animals typically carried personal names (very much like our pets), that archaeological excavations revealed the existence of animal nurseries in Egyptian temples where, for instance, thousands of crocodile eggs were looked after to hatch, and many more such intriguing facts.

tunic_2091

Greaco-Roman tunic from Egypt, with figures of animal divinities

Even more remarkably, animals in Graeco-Roman Egypt were seen as divine agents not only in a cultic milieu, but also in private magical and divination practices. Thus, we know for instance of numerous papyri, many of which are still unpublished, that discuss omens connected with animals. Some are dream interpretation handbooks, and discuss the meaning of dreams in which animals are sighted, explaining what this foretells with regard to the dreamer’s future. Other, even more remarkable texts (such as one known under its ancient title as ‘The Book of the Gecko’) focus instead on animal omens experienced in the waking state, interpreting a myriad of animals’ movements and behaviour as signs of events to befall the human observer.

This talk will introduce the audience into this fascinating and little-known material.

Dr Luigi Prada is Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellow in Egyptology at the University of Oxford, a Theodor Heuss Research Fellow (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg) and a Trustee of the Egypt Exploration Society.

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Halloween Special: So … why Mummies?

Mummy magic at Hallowe’en…

Stories from the Museum Floor

Today’s special edition post is by Becca from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are each sharing our passion and  interest in the museum and its objects … and Becca has a special interest in Halloween! 

And to find out more about ancient Egypt, have a look at the Curator’s blog, Egypt at the Manchester Museum.

Halloween Special: So … why Mummies?

Well what passes for summer is gone and winter is most definitely coming, but before everyone gets the advent calendars out, let’s talk about my favourite time of the year …

Yup you guessed it, Halloween!

We’ve got sweets, themed parties, costumes, and my personal favourite, scary films. Now then, prizes will be given for guessing my favourite movie monster (and if you’ve read my other blog posts you probably know where this is going). If you were sat reading this thinking mummies, then very well done…

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by | October 28, 2016 · 9:06 am