Skip to content

Two great museums

May 6, 2013

The day after visiting BABE, we visited friends in Oxford and I was able to spend a short time in my favourite museum, the Pitt Rivers. Its idiosyncratic system of taxonomy results in objects being grouped by type rather than history or geography. Masks are displayed together, magic wands from any place or era can be found together, maps of extraordinary diversity share another section.

A Mexican mask or, to be more precise, its caption, drew my attention.

“The double-faced mask is from a different dance”

Among fantastical animals
spirit-warriors and demons
this mask, half red, half brown,
is entirely human.

                                      To hide
behind its smile could ease
the daily dance of doubt and risk
of chance and compromise.

The following Friday we travelled to London for Ice Age Art at the British Museum. The walk from Victoria Coach Station to Museum Street seemed a good deal longer than we remembered it. The truth is that we are older and London is even more crowded. It was hard work but well worth the effort. The good old BM has done it again. These tiny pieces of painstakingly-worked bone, horn, tusk or stone, unimaginably ancient, speak to us in a subtle language that transcends culture. Some of them are breathtakingly accurate portrayals of animals. Many are faceless, seemingly generic women. One is a tiny flute made from a vulture’s wing-bone. It would be fascinating to know how it sounded, and whether our distant ancestors’ idea of a good tune was anything like our own. Or perhaps it was used to imitate birdsong. I loved the dark cave-like inner space with cave-paintings and graffiti projected on the walls and ceiling, with a sound-track of falling drops of water and subterranean echoes – and not only because it was somewhere to sit down and reflect!

This exhibition has been extended until June 2nd. Anyone who hasn’t seen it will have missed something really special. The artefacts are beautifully displayed and lit, but many of them are very small indeed, and I wished I’d had the foresight to bring a magnifying-glass. I was glad I’d had the foresight to book our tickets in advance.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 7, 2013 12:14 pm

    I also love the Pitt Rivers (went for the first time last autumn), and thoroughly enjoyed the Ice Age Art… it’s all about being human…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: