Telling a story

October 20, 2022

Telling stories is what all museums do, and using collections objects to tell stories is at the heart of our work in developing the galleries for the new Young V&A.

Many forms of play are centred around creating stories. Whether children are playing with dolls, with toys, or with pieces of upside-down furniture in their living rooms – they are often creating stories using the objects around them. 

The new Imagine gallery will use objects from across the V&A’s expansive collections of art, design, and performance to explore different forms of creativity and self-expression. This includes diving into the fantastical and multifarious world of storytelling. There are many ways to tell stories – all any storyteller needs to get going is the right spark. That spark, in this context, is our collection – with the objects in the Imagine gallery coming from a multitude of times and places. 

Painted wood and gourd wind instrument (pungi), unknown maker, pre-1882, India. Museum no. 380-1882. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We will invite visitors to create stories involving the objects. In our gallery text we are providing the object’s history, as well creative inspiration about how the objects might feature in a story. For instance, how would a pungi (an Indian wind instrument commonly used for snake charming) have a starring role in an adventure?

Our visitors will have ownership over the objects they choose to feature in their stories. If they want, they can incorporate an object’s history into their story – or they can completely repurpose the object. Maybe one child will tell us a story in which they become the ruler of a reptile kingdom using a powerful snake-charmer, whereas another utilizes the same snake-charmer as some sort of elaborate straw! 

Creating stories around objects is something we often do, even as adult visitors. We imagine who owned the things we see in museums and wonder what their lives were like. In balancing the objective information with the fictional speculations in our text, this gallery about storytelling comes together as a collaborative space where both the object histories and the visitor’s imagined stories matter. It’s a ripe starting place for young people to find their own creative voice.

Here are some of the objects you will encounter in the Imagine gallery, and how we hope they can provoke some wildly imaginative ideas from our young visitors. 

Setting the scene 

Snow from The Weather Series, colour lithograph and screenprint on paper, by Gemini GEL and David Hockney, 1973, Los Angeles, USA. Museum no. CIRC.56-1975. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The setting of a story can shape the ensuing action. This 1973 print by David Hockney is part of the artist’s Weather Series, which was a series of six lithographs made between 1965 and 1973. This reflection on variable weather was made while Hockney was living in the perpetually sunny California. Working with the printmaking studio Gemini GEL, the Weather Series was the second major body of work Hockney made there.

In creating this snowy scene, Hockney drew inspiration from Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. He first visited Japan in 1971 and the works of great masters like Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige had a significant impact on him. 

The large-scale image, standing over a metre tall, is soft and still. It invites visitors to almost step into the scene. It could be the perfect setting for a wintry story, or one involving sleighing. Perhaps even polar bears or yetis.


Stories often feature objects which play an important role. They are often, but not always, helpful. Dorothy Gale had red slippers (helpful), Frodo Baggins had the One Ring (only helping itself), and Alice had shrinking potions (variously helpful and unhelpful depending on quantities consumed). 

Leather jerkin worn by the actress Julia Lockwood (b.1941) in the title role of Peter Pan, about 1960. Museum no. S.1232-2014. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This costume was worn by Julia Lockwood for her role as Peter Pan in the play of the same name by J.M Barrie. The leaves are made of leather and capture the character’s outdoorsy and adventurous lifestyle. There is a vent at the back of the costume which allowed a wire to be attached to the harness worn beneath for the flying scenes.

Julia Lockwood originally played Wendy alongside her mother, Margaret Lockwood, who played Peter. Julia then took over the role of Peter, which she performed several times during the 1960s. 

The costume could provide the perfect camouflaged disguise in a visitor’s story, or could even bestow Peter Pan’s flying abilities. The potential in a pile of leaves is endless.

The characters 

We have an eclectic cast featuring in the Imagine gallery, any of whom would make fascinating characters in a visitor’s story.

‘OO-IX’ (boy on a motorcycle), slip-cast porcelain with glazes and platinum lustre, by Shigeki Hayashi, 2013, Japan. Museum no. FE.100:1-2013. FE.100:1-2013

This porcelain baby driver was made by the Japanese artist Shigeki Hayashi in 2013. Babies are a recurring subject in Hayashi’s work. The sculpture, entitled OO-IX is modelled on the artist’s son and is wearing a combat suit inspired by the anime Gundam. It consists of more than thirty individually cast porcelain parts that are fired, glazed and glued with extreme precision. 

Drawing on designs in anime and manga, Hayashi has described his pieces as being characters in an imaginary science fiction world. At the same time, his work celebrates the use of traditional materials such as clay, and the skill required to produce hand-crafted plaster moulds.

The sculpture, which certainly invites a lot of questions upon first sight, is the perfect unlikely vehicle to feature in a story.

Find out more about Young V&A.

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