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New exhibits in the Wellcome Collection reflect historical scholarly collections

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A new temporary exhibition at London’s Museum of Health and Medicine, the Wellcome Collection, features works by artists Grace Ndiritu and Jim Naughton. The combination of these two exhibits, which cover different topics, reflects how the museum handles natural history and anthropological collections.

Times are changing for the Welcome Collection. One of his permanent collections, Medicine Man, showcases some of Sir Henry Wellcome’s extensive collection of health-related objects and art from around the world, but the exhibition closes on November 27.

Many of the items in the Medicine Man exhibit were collected at auction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and came from parts of the world under colonial rule. In 2021, the Wellcome Collection stated that “our museum and library collections, some of which are now jointly held with the Science Museum, still contain many objects that have been misappropriated by people and communities who created them.”

In response to that reflection, they are evaluating their collections and considering new ways to display artifacts and objects from their medical history. This is an ongoing process and is one of the new exhibits at Grace Ndiritu’s “The Healing Pavilion”.

Ndiritu used some of the wood paneling from the Medicine Man exhibit space to create a Buddhist temple-inspired space, with two large tapestries on opposite walls. One of the tapestries is based on a 1915 photograph of staff at Henry Wellcome’s private museum carefully handling skulls and masks brought from countries of the Global South. The other tapestry shows a photograph of the staff of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin in 1973 sitting on a throne from the Kingdom of Bamum in Cameroon on display in their museum.

Visitors are invited to enter the pavilion (without shoes) and contemplate how these images reflect changing attitudes to anthropological collections and question how much has changed since then.

In the other half of the room, Jim Naughton’s “Objects in Stereo” exhibit also offers visitors a unique perspective on museum collections through photographs taken in a museum depot. Many museums display only a very small portion of their collections at any given time, with the rest in storage. The Science Museum Group, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum used a storage facility called Blyth House (formerly the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank), but this facility is closing and all their stored items will have to be moved. . coming years.

Naughton takes a final look behind the scenes of Blyth House, taking stereoscopic images of several pieces from Henry Wellcome’s collection that are on long-term loan to the Science Museum and in storage at the facility.

They also took detailed high-resolution overview photos of some storage areas to get an idea of ​​how the inventory is handled. It’s an interesting way to see some of the many items that are commonly hidden in storage for various reasons. For example, some vintage items may not have been exposed to much air or moisture, others may be toxic or treated with materials that protect their structural integrity but make them unsafe to touch. Hey.

Images from the storage facility show just how much work goes on behind the scenes of a natural history or historical science museum. And like Ndiritu’s exhibition, it explores how museums deal with objects in their care.

To view ‘Objects in Stereo’ and ‘The Healing Pavilion’, you can visit the Wellcome Collection until April 23, 2023. ,

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