Our World Stories: Meaning, Masks and Making Malagan

I’m part of the team working on the redevelopment of the World Art gallery at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. This gallery displays some stunning objects from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific, but visitors – especially young people – have said they find the current displays confusing, outdated and difficult to relate to.

Contemporary versions of a Tatanua Mask
Contemporary versions of a Tatanua Mask

The transformation of the gallery is part of the Stories of the World programme of the Cultural Olympiad for the 2012 London Olympics. The museum is working with young people, source communities overseas and diaspora communities in the UK to gather personal stories, images, sound and film. These, along with some new objects, will sit alongside the historic objects that are chosen for the new displays.

One of the most exciting things about working on the World Stories gallery redevelopment project is the possibility of uncovering new stories in our fantastic World Art collection. Although I’ve worked here for several years now, I feel I’m always learning something new.

That’s definitely been the case with the malagan sculptures from New Ireland, part of Papua New Guinea. With the help of researcher Katherine Prior (pictured here looking at historic and contemporary versions of a tatanua mask with World Stories curator Laura Waters) this collection of striking masks and sculpture has come to life and I’m really excited about the possibility of working with young people, as well as New Ireland artists – some of whom are still working in the malagan tradition – on developing new interpretation for this part of the World Stories gallery displays.

Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art

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