Welcome to the World Cultures collections and gallery at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.
World Cultures is an imperfect term given to a collection of objects that were acquired during the time of the British Empire but were made by indigenous peoples around the world. These collections offer us a rich flavour of the cultures the British encountered whilst they served abroad. However, they equally reflect the interests of colonial and post-colonial donors.
The aim of the gallery
The overall aim is to increase the awareness and understanding of peoples in the world whose objects have been brought to Exeter, and how visitors can relate to them.
Content of the World Cultures gallery
This first floor gallery displays a wide range of fascinating objects that were made to reflect tradition, everyday use, and social even ceremonial occasions. Cultural values and identity are sometimes expressed through the object. Objects can be lost in time and space, which is why it is important to find their voices – the voices of the people who made and used them and the voices of those who acquired them.
The gallery enables the visitor to explore how ideas are exchanged around the world through migration.
The World Cultures collection
Awarded designation status in 1998, the World Cultures collection is considered an important collection both nationally and internationally. There are approximately 12,000 identified items from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Western Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 1,000 items are on display at any one time. Where possible we will work with indigenous communities so that objects can be appropriately displayed with multiple voices.
Associations with maritime voyages and the British Empire
Many of these objects reflect early encounters with voyages and Empire and the peoples whose lives were dramatically changed by it. This collection often highlights the link between Devon and the outside world. Artefacts were largely obtained through Empire by missionaries, traders, military officers, colonial administrators and explorers then donated to the museum many years later. They were acquired primarily as gifts, purchases, souvenirs even exchanges. However, a few items are known to have been unethically acquired, particularly during times of conflict or land acquisition.
World Cultures and acts of repatriation
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum has been actively involved in the act of repatriation since 1994. In 1997, shell jewellery believed to have belonged to Aboriginal heroine Trucanini, was returned to Tasmania. In 2007, human remains were returned to New Zealand and in 2008 to Australia.
Yes it has a very small collection. In recent years, the Museum has worked with indigenous communities so that remains can be safely returned where existing documentation and research can demonstrate a source of origin.
Remains already have been returned to New Zealand and Australia. The ethnography collection cares for a small number of remains from Africa and Melanesia. These are sensitively stored and are not easily accessed.
There are also objects that contain remains that have been culturally processed e.g. tsantsa from Peru, a skull drum from Tibet. These are displayed in an educational context.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is a member of two Subject Specialist Networks – Museum Ethnographers Group (MEG) and the Human Remains SSN. RAMM also acts in accordance with the law, the codes of practice set by the Human Tissue Authority and the guidelines developed by MEG and the DCMS. RAMM also has a collections policy which includes human remains and repatriation as an appendix.
There are approximately 3000 items from Africa in the collection. In the World Cultures gallery Africa is represented by the arts of West Africa, East and South Africa, beadwork and a collector's case concerning Richard E. Dennett, an ivory and rubber trader in Central Africa in 1879.
Almost 2000 items make up this collection of material from the American continent. These pieces are located in four cases; The Pacific Rim, Northwest Coast, the Subarctic, the Plains, Southwest USA, Mexico, Central and South America and the Amazon.
Whilst items from China, India, Japan and Myanmar (formerly Burma) form the larger part of the Asia collection there is also material from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet and Southeast Asia. There are approximately 3,000 items from this part of the world.
This collection consists of approximately 2000 items from Australia and Tasmania, New Zealand and many of the Pacific island groups such as Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and Easter Island.
The strength of this collection lies in a donation of material from Oman. However, there are individual pieces such as a finely made Palestinian woollen bisht that had been acquired by Exeter MP Sir John Bowring during his visit there in 1838.
All about the World Cultures collections and gallery