A Fusion of Worlds, the Petrie Museum.

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
11th March – 24th May 2014.
Free Entry.

A Fusion of Worlds.

A Fusion of Worlds.

The temporary exhibition A Fusion of Worlds: Ancient Egypt, African Art and Identity in Modernist Britain explores the influence of ancient Egypt upon the work of artists Mahmoud Mukhtar, Jacob Epstein, Edna Manley and Ronald Moody, proving that there is far more to the reception of ancient Egypt in early twentieth century Britain than the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Focussing primarily on the interwar period, this multi-disciplinary exhibition explores the parallel worlds of the modernist art movement, contemporary archaeological thinking and the African diaspora, drawing upon the social, cultural and political landscape in which they were situated and the ancient Egyptian objects that linked them.

An interpretation panel from A Fusion of Worlds.

An interpretation panel from A Fusion of Worlds.

A Fusion of Worlds was inspired by the discovery of a letter from Flinders Petrie, published in the Manchester Guardian in 1929, in which he criticised the ‘primitive barbarism’ of a public sculpture by Jacob Epstein. From this initial discussion of Petrie’s views on the use of sculpture as a marker of civilisation and cultural achievement the exhibition introduces you to the vibrant world of the African-American Harlem Renaissance art movement in which ancient Egypt, alongside other cultural influences, was used to “re-create and re-frame modern black identities.” The exhibition incorporates a diverse range of themes, from the changing view of the ancient Egyptian object from artefact to artwork and the increasingly political nature of the ancient Egyptian image in popular culture, to the philosophical perspectives shared by the ancient and modern sculptor.

The exhibition consists of a series of interpretation panels positioned along the back wall of the main gallery, each exploring different exhibition themes and artist biographies, and a display case featuring a selection of archival material. This presentation style has allowed the Museum to display a greater depth of research than most other exhibitions and presents a level of detail that would make an excellent publication. In this shared space, interspersed amongst the cases in the gallery, the exhibition is contextualised by the permanent collection that surrounds it, allowing you to view and interpret the Museum’s objects from a new and exciting perspective.

Scrapbook style pin board showing images that inspired the exhibition.

Scrapbook style pin board showing images that inspired the exhibition.

This exhibition, co-curated by Debbie Challis (Petrie Museum) and Gemma Romain (UCL Geography, Equiano Centre), stands as another great example of inclusive exhibition practice from the Petrie Museum. Through public engagement workshops the Museum established a project team who were invited to contribute both ideas and text to the exhibition. Many of the interpretation panels include text written by members of the project team, describing visits to archives and museum collections, as well as their personal research and thoughts on particular artworks.

This approach has added an important sense of multi-vocality to the exhibition and it certainly feels richer for their input. I particularly enjoyed an interpretation panel entitled Form and Function: Petrie Museum Objects in which members of the project team picked out objects from the collection that appealed to them aesthetically and explored their similarities in style to the modernist art movement.

There are some brilliant additions to A Fusion of Worlds that allow you to actively engage with the exhibition and participate in some of the research behind its content. Scrapbook-style pin boards display some of the images and artworks explored by the project group and the presence of a comments board encourages visitors to share their thoughts and feedback with the Museum. There is also a table of books and a reading file of articles and newspaper cuttings linked to the exhibition for visitors to look through, and a short film, played on two tablets in the Museum, showing interviews with the curators and members of the project team about their experiences of working on the exhibition.

A view of the Petrie Museum and A Fusion of Worlds exhibition.

A view of the Petrie Museum and A Fusion of Worlds exhibition.

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