In the latest episode of Secrets of the Museum we are treated to another fascinating reveal of life behind-the-scenes at the V&A, featuring new discoveries, the challenges of moving and displaying objects, and delving deep into objects and their hidden stories.
First up, we join curator Christine Checinksa and her hunt for objects with personal stories to include in our upcoming Africa Fashion exhibition.
Following a call out to the general public, Christine visits 77-year-old Gladys and her family to learn more about the Kente cloth she bought in Ghana in 1960 and what it means to them. Gladys is also on hand to help conservator Gill MacGregor with mounting the garment.
Other objects chosen to feature in the exhibition include two prints by the celebrated Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. Born in Accra, Ghana in 1929, Barnor began work as a photographer in Accra’s Jamestown district in 1947 where he set up the Ever Young studio, taking photographs of the local community. After spending the 1960s in Britain, Barnor returned to Ghana at the end of the decade where he helped open the country’s first colour-processing laboratory. In 1993, after 24 years in Ghana, Barnor returned to London where he continues to live today.
Barnor visits the museum and discusses his work that documents the shift towards modern living as experienced by black people in both Africa and Britain with Christine and assistant curator Hana Kaluznick.
These prints join others by Barnor in our collection, having previously been acquired as part of a 7-year partnership with the Black Cultural Archives to identify and acquire photographs taken by black photographers or which document the lives of black people in Britain, taken between 1950 – 1990. Find out more about the Staying Power project.
Turning (literally!) to more practical problems, we head north to V&A Dundee where curators and technicians prepare to embark on the complicated task of turning the page of a giant pop-up book.
Made by Scottish artist John Byrne in 1973, the book was the original stage set for The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, John McGrath’s influential play about the history and exploitation of the Highlands. Measuring a whopping 3 x 4 metres when open, the book includes five pop-up scenes that were intended to be revealed by actors during the play. Will the team be able to carefully turn the page of this fragile book to reveal a new scene?
Meanwhile, a new discovery of a wooden decorative tray in the collection has curator Nick Humphrey scratching his head and eliciting the help of conservator Dana Melchar and conservation scientist Lucia Burgio.
The suspicion is that the tray may be a rare example of a ‘Barniz de Pasto’ object. Barniz de Pasto is a lacquer-like technique using a South American plant resin called mopa mopa. Before the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas, a similar decorative technique had been used to decorate Inca wood cups traditionally used at ceremonial feasts in the Andes, and from about 1600 it was applied to a wide variety of secular and religious European objects. There are no more than 20 known Barniz de Pasto objects in Europe, and the V&A holds five. Or could that now be six?
Sending out objects on loan is an important way to reach new audiences and develop relationships with other national and international intuitions. The latest to hit the road from the V&A collections is Auguste Rodin’s conceptual sculpture Inner Voice, a bronze statue depicting a young woman lost in her thoughts. Gifted along with 17 other sculptures by the artist in 1914, the piece was initially attacked by critics for its radical form – even the director of the V&A at the time, Cecil Smith, admitting he wasn’t a fan. Find out how the team got on preparing this masterpiece for its journey to Switzerland.