Visitors making their way through the first floor galleries in RAMM will have noticed a large section of the World Cultures gallery has been blocked off with tall blue-painted hoarding (see image below left).
The Discovering Worlds project is coming to an end and for us this means transforming the current Pacific displays using themes that are relevant to Pacific communities and fresh object interpretation. It’s hard work where the public displays are concerned as visitors do not get to see the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes.
For those readers familiar with these updates, visitors will be aware of the project being split into two parts; the research on the collections and donors which is fed into the second part, the gallery re-display. Research information is then fed into the museum’s collections management system which will then be accessible on Collections Explorer (April 2016).
Design work for re-displays
In the early planning stage the Discovering Worlds project team work together to produce the display vision. Objects are selected by the curator based partly upon suggestions received from the researching scholars but also advised upon by conservation who have to check the condition of the items concerned – basically to make sure that the objects are not too fragile for display! This information, and the context for display, is passed to the designer. The designer is not an expert on the world cultures collection so it’s crucial for the curator and the designer to regularly communicate so that cultural items are displayed appropriately.
The above image is an example of a case layout produced by the designer. This layout is focused on the theme of competition and conflict and it’s a 2-dimensional view of how the case may look to the visitor. It’s a problematic layout in that the object shapes are not defined by their unique accession number but the technicians also need to know how these objects are to look three dimensionally. The designer has since produced a 3D mock-up of the display area.
There are several steps to go from this stage to the actual process of putting objects in cases. For example, some of the academic research is channelled into the displays through a variety of interpretation. The primary panel (see layout above) is the first layer of information in the re-display that conveys the most important message about the objects displayed within that particular theme.
Key object labels
Visitors will encounter interesting chunks of text that are designed to open up the stories of significant objects and the stories of certain donors. This gives visitors an insight into the lives of people who were never prominent in the museum’s history but who actually played a contributing role in the British Empire and who indirectly contributed to the ethnographic collections here.
On the left one can see an example of a draft ‘key object label’. This one introduces the visitor to the armour from Kiribati that will feature in the section on conflict. The photograph comes to us courtesy of the British Museum and is a staged photograph of a man wearing similar coconut-fibre armour holding a sword that employs sharp shark teeth as its cutting edge. This is an interesting photograph as it shows quite a striking resemblance to RAMM’s armour.
Donor’s stories offer an interesting insight into the colonial past. Take for example Francis Godolphin Bond. This naval officer was the nephew of Captain Bligh and we were already aware of his presence on the voyage of the HMS Providence in 1791-2 but we wanted to learn more about his time in the Pacific and the people he and the crew had encountered. How did he acquire the mourner’s costume from Tahiti, for example? Could we learn more about this? The research produced a hefty amount of information for the museum but which is too big to reproduce in the gallery, however, it is acceptable to make this research available in full as a digital resource. Instead we produce small panels called ‘people’s stories’, an example of this can be seen below.