Friday, 7 January 2011

The British Museum

The British Museum

The British Museum was founded by King George II during the scientific enlightenment. The King was given so many gifts, most of which he didn't want in his house. As a place for storage and  to allow other people to admire the gifts, he created the British Museum.

The African art found its way to the British Museum around 1870. Britian had been trading with Benin since the 1600s, until in 1897 a quarrel over lead, led to Britian invading Benin. The Royal Palace was destroyed and all of it's contents were were taken to Europe. From then on, the African art was displayed in the British Museum. However the art was often displayed in a way to make it more 'primitive' looking. Artists such as Picasso were influenced heavily by African art but chose the pieces that were the most 'primitive' looking to work from. The idea of African art as being a 'Primitive' can be misleading. Often the pieces that were chosen to be exhibited could have been made 200 years before but could have been compared to work of the current artists, at the time in Europe.

In the British Museum the issue that the African art shouldn't be there because it should be returned to its, many would say, rightful owners, is skirted around. It seems as though they can't accept it. If they said it was stolen and so not rightfully theirs, there would be no option but to give it back.
The tree of Life.
The cold war was over, and there was peace and stability in Mozambique. However, there were still millions of guns left in the country. This meant that weapons were easily available to anyone who wanted them. To reduce this threat and to create a positive input into the country, Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane of the Christian council of Mozambique set up the Transforming Arms into tools project. This is where they took the left over weapons and exchanged them for farming equipment. With the collected weapons, some Mozambican artists made sculptures like the Tree of Life, as shown in the photo, to show the change in attitude towards violence in Mozambique.

The Tree of Life was my favourite piece in the collection at The British Museum.  You get a real sense of the feelings and the struggles in Mozambique and the video in the exhibition also helps to tell their story.
The Guns were a symbol of war and suffering. Now everything the guns represented, has been completely reversed to convey an opposite message, which is something so positive. 
It was important that this piece of art work was created, and seeing it in the British Museum shows how Mozambicans want to be seen and helps to spread this positive message that the artists wanted to portray.


It was also interesting to see the Masquerade Masks and costumes. Seeing articles from another culture is fascinating, and at first the whole idea of the Masquerade may seem alien to us. The more you read about it, however, the more you see similarities to our own religious practices in the UK.  Masquerades usually happen at the changes of the seasons and rites of passage, such as initiations and deaths. All times when Westerners hold celebrations or have national holidays. For example in the Christian religion, people celebrate Christmas in the winter and Easter in the Spring. Funerals and Baptisms are also examples of this.

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