Project partners: what are the benefits

Last week, as part of the Discovering Worlds project I visited the Sainsbury Research Unit (SRU) at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.  This brief sabbatical had four aims;

  1. To meet up with current project partners to discuss updates on collection information.
  2. To use the research library so that I can start writing captions for some of the rare items the new Pacific displays.
  3. To start thinking about the next Designation funding application which has to be submitted in early March and
  4. To meet up with relevant colleagues to discuss the next phase of the collection/gallery development (linked to item 3 above)

If you’ve had the chance to read earlier blog entries then readers will be aware that Karen Jacobs visited RAMM in 2015 to examine items from the Polynesia collection.  Karen is a lecturer in the Arts of the Pacific at the SRU but she has also been spending time researching Fijian skirts called liku, of which we have two old examples in the collection.  Karen is trying to understand how the style developed not just as an item of clothing but also as an item that was invested with wealth and status.  Both of RAMM’s examples will feature in public display; one in the Pacific displays at RAMM, the second will be included in a major exhibition held at the SRU later this year called Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific.

Of course, our current Discovering Worlds: Pacific project enabled me to have access to the collections at the SRU.  Museum staff there kindly helped me examine some of the beautiful items in their care.  One of these pieces is an amazing ‘fisherman’s god’ carving from the Cook Islands.  The display case was removed by the technical team so I could examine this beautiful carving closely; it’s a remarkable piece.  The photograph was taken using my phone.

deity carving, Cook Islands


Readers may also be aware that our attempts to better understand our rare votive offering from the Cook Islands continues.  This bound plantain was likely intended for the first fruits ceremonies but more work is clearly needed as very few people in the museum and ethnographic fields have seen such an item.  However, this example will soon be found in the new displays under the theme of ‘wrapping and divinity’.

I also spent some time with former Discovering Worlds assistant Katrina Dring, who is now doing the MA programme in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.  Katrina’s currently busy deciding her dissertation topic and she has expressed an interest in wanting to focus on an aspect of RAMM’s ethnographic collection.

Katrina Dring with Marquesas Islands paddleHere we can see Katrina holding a very tall wooden paddle from the Marquesas Islands.  Katrina and myself were measuring this object for the collection database and seeing if it was possible to get a decent photograph of the object in the collection store.

In that same week I was based in the depths of the SRU’s research library, which is an incredible resource for any anthropologist and student of world art.  Upon perusing the shelves I found several publications that enabled me to start planning the object captions I’m going to be writing soon for the Pacific displays.

However, most of my time was spent thinking about the next grant application and this time we want to focus our attention on Exeter’s superb Africa collections.  For this I needed to think about the knowledge specialists that need to be brought in; this is why project partners are important to consider in the early stages of project planning.  The SRU is a centre of excellence and I consulted my colleagues there who have offered to support the next phase of the collection/ gallery development in World Cultures.  Project partners are key to bringing great ideas to life and this is why I have also approached scholars in other institutions and, let’s not forget, those important voices in relevant local community groups.  RAMM really wants to have first class displays of its African collections and to ensure that the collection interpretation is fresh, is modern and up to date.