Thursday, 26 July 2018

Messy Realities: The Secret Life of Technology

Messy Realities: The Secret Life of Technology is a Public Engagement with Research project at the Pitt Rivers Museum, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Led by project researcher, Gemma Hughes, from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, the project was delivered in collaboration with me and Jozie Kettle, the Pitt Rivers Museum Public Engagement with Research Officer.

The team includes researchers, Museum staff, designers from Rycotewood, people living with long-term health needs, their family and friends. As a group we shared stories about the role technology has in our everyday lives. These conversations were stimulated  by handling UK medical technologies and worldwide objects from the Museum collections that show how cultures from across the world have developed objects to support their health needs. By placing diverse types of objects together we were able to see how museum objects could be reinterpreted as assisted living technologies. 

A collection of objects, a medicine box made from a nut from India, an Inro from Japan and Tupperware bought in the UK
Medicine Box made from a Nut, India, [1893.5.5] Inro for Medicine, Japan [1920.16.2.1], Sistema Tupperware, UK,
Suzy Pryor ©
We started by talking about the central role Tupperware has in many of our lives, from keeping left over food edible and safe from bacteria, to making taking our pills a simpler task.  We looked at how wearable technologies such as a leopard claw amulet from
Ghana protects against drowning, in the same way a pendant alarm from the UK protects against falls, and the crucial role human belief and interaction has in these technologies working. 

Walking frames from the UK and two knobkerries used as walking sticks from South Africa
Walking frames and sticks, UK, with carved Knobkerries [ &], South Africa
Suzy Pryor ©

We thought about how technologies from across the world hold meaning, are personalised and adapted, and how technology can support individuals as their long-term health needs progress. This can be exemplified by the metal walking frames, traditionally given out in the UK,  which are generic and can be seen as lowering the status of their user, next to Knobkerries from South Africa which are crafted as hunting weapons and transformed in later life in to walking sticks that demonstrate the users community status as an elder.
Nico shows the group an Inro from Japan, used as a medicine box [1920.16.2.1]
Nico shows the group an Inro from Japan, used as a medicine box [1920.16.2.1]

Andrew shows the group an object he is conserving in the Conservation lab
Andrew shows the Messy Realities Group an object he is conserving in the Conservation Lab
Suzy Pryor ©

The group visited behind-the-scenes of the Museum, including meeting Nico from Collections in the research space to view collection objects; and visiting Jem and Andrew in the conservation lab to see how progression in objects is diagnosed and treated.

Jean and Paro, the Robotic Seal, meet each other
Jean and Paro, the Robotic Seal, meet each other
We also had a visit from Paro, a robotic seal, and handler, Professor George Leeson, Director of the Oxford Institute for Population Ageing,  who talked about how Paro, which can respond to human interactions has supported people living with Dementia.

Our four weeks of conversations led us to believe that technologies can exist in isolation of people but work better when they are person-centred and their use is supported by community and human interaction.  This led designers, Michael and Phil to work on person-centred design with Sheila, Phil and Isla to imagine new technologies that would better support their lives. 

Messy Realities exhibition with visitor comments
Messy Realities Exhibition with Visitor Comments

On 23rd July 2018, we launched our co-produced display, Messy RealitiesThe Secret Life of Technology which brings together our four weeks of conversations and comments. We are hoping to collect visitor ideas of what Technology means to them to continue the conversation with Museum visitors. The display is up from now until the 28th September, so please come and add your comments. 

Messy Realities Launch Event, July 2018
Messy Realities has transformed my practice and has made me rethink the way I engage with communities across the programmes I support. By bringing together people from a  range of backgrounds and experiences we were able to have new conversations, outside of our bubbles of influence which have contributed to new ideas for research, to everyone’s confidence in the importance of our opinions, and to developing new ways of working in the Museum. 

If anything reminds me to continue this new model of practice, this email from Jean, one of our group members, will be it:

‘I asked Sheila for your email address so that l could say a really big THANKYOU for the Pitt Rivers sessions. 

As you can see l am taking advantage of the little bit of IT technology l have managed to acquire.

I have enjoyed them very much indeed. It felt like being a student again. I wasn’t a teacher, wife, mother, helper, carer etc, responsible for others, but just ME.

I don’t know what came over me on Monday. I have never spoken out like that in my life. I was the one who sat at the back and let others hold forth. I hope l was not too inarticulate.

I have never taken recreational drugs but l was on such a ‘high’ after Monday’s session l imagine that’s what it is like.’

Beth McDougall
Families and Communities Officer

Monday, 16 July 2018

West Oxford School find out about Nigeria in Take One... Country

The country selected by West Oxford Community Primary School for the focus of their annual Take One project was Nigeria and what better place to come to than the Pitt Rivers Museum? Over two weeks every class from Reception to Year 6 visited the Pitt Rivers Museum to handle and look at Nigerian artefacts.  These visits inspired art and craft work which culminated in the summer art exhibition open to parents and the local community.  I was lucky enough to visit this fabulous exhibition at the start of July and was overwhelmed by the creative, colourful and diverse responses to the Nigerian collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Photo of a large school hall displaying masks, pictures and sculptures
Take One.. Country Exhibition at West Oxford Primary School © Pitt Rivers Museum

During their 90 minute visit to the Pitt Rivers pupils looked closely at Nigerian masks, exploring the concept of masquerade where there is an attempt to make contact with village ancestors through costumed dance and song. They also had a chance to handle and test out talking drums, dance anklets and masks. To find out more about masquerades read our West Africa Masks and Carving Factsheet or visit our fabulous displays!  Pupils also looked at ways status can be conveyed through looking closely at the Benin Court Art display as the Kingdom of Benin is in southern Nigeria.  They discovered that a leopard is a sign of royal power and that in the seventeenth century the Oba (King) walked tame leopards round the city on a lead!

Photo of a leopard brass mask - the spots of the leopard are raised from the surface
Leopard Brass Mask 1965.9.1 B © Pitt Rivers Museum
A photo of a clay mask made by a Year 6 pupil painted in a bronze colour
Year 6 Clay Leopard Mask © Pitt Rivers Museum

A self-guided trail around the Pitt Rivers also enabled pupils to discover the wide range of arts and crafts generated within Nigeria.  Pupils loved tracking down the objects, highlighted with a Nigerian flag sticker, and saw fabulous objects such as leather riding boots made by the Hausa people from Northern Nigeria or beaded fans made by Yoruba artists in Western Nigeria.  Pupils also looked at a Yoruba wooden sculpture of Queen Victoria, touching on the colonial history of Nigeria.

A pair of high leather boots coloured red, light and dark brown rising well above the knee
Hausa Riding Boots 1904.54.24.1
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Photo of round fan covered in brightly coloured beads in a pattern featuring two human faces
Yoruba Beaded Fan 1965.12.45 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Pupils used what they had seen as a creative springboard to produce a wide range of art and craft work ranging from beaded fans, masquerade masks, tie-dye T-shirts, fabric designs, embroidered animals to leopard sculptures!  This encapsulates the approach of the National Gallery's Take One... brand which encourages schools to take one picture or object, and use it to foster pupils' critical and creative thinking. West Oxford Community Primary School have enterprisingly extended this concept to include Take One Country, focussing on India at The Ashmolean last year and now Nigeria at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  I'm looking forward to finding out where we might be travelling to next year!

Two fans made from black cardboard with beads stuck on the top
Beaded Fan made by Reception pupil © Pitt Rivers Museum

Indigo coloured T-shirts pegged up on a line in a school hall
Tie dye T-shirt inspired by indigo dyed Adire Cloth © Pitt Rivers Museum

On a table there are several leopard box sculptures with a photo of the original leopard box from the Pitt Rivers
Leopard Sculptures inspired by a Yoruba Leopard Box 1919.10.1 © Pitt Rivers Museum

If you would like to find out more about the project, develop you own Take One experience or book existing Take One sessions then please contact
Staff INSET can be delivered as part of project work.

If you are studying Benin or are interested in finding out more about the masquerade masks then consider booking our Guided trail - Africa, highlighting Benin.

As you can see the stimulus of the collections here produce some amazing creative results!  As a teacher from West Oxford Primary School stated:
"This was a class act - well presented, great resources and good communication beforehand.  Great balance - pupils were able to touch and hold objects, discuss, listen, look at cabinets.'

Becca McVean
Primary School Education Officer
Pitt Rivers Museum

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Pitt Rivers Kicks Arts again!

Hello! I'm Kelly and I am the maternity cover for the Secondary Education, Further Education and Young People role here at the Pitt Rivers Museum during 2018. I am very lucky to have been part of a brilliant, dynamic project called Kick Arts, which has just finished under its HLF funding.
Preparing for the celebration event © Pitt Rivers Museum

The Kick Arts Flexi School programme has run for three years, in a partnership between the OYAP Trust, and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Both organisations are passionate about working with local young people to make a real change in their lives, and the Kick Arts programme has been really successful at bringing together a new concept and making a tangible difference to the lives of everyone involved. 

Preparing the animation scene © Pitt Rivers Museum

Kick Arts offers a whole day alternative to a classroom setting. It targets young people who may not be reaching their full potential in a classroom setting, for various reasons. The sessions are totally bespoke, responding to the energy, interests and dynamics of each individual in the room. Charlie Henry, who heads up the sessions, is a trained Psychotherapist and multi-platform artist. She holds intuitive qualities of working with young people to support and nurture an environment where young people are free to express themselves through producing artwork. In 2018, she was supported by Beth McDougall from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Beth offered a sensitive approach for young people to engage with the Museums vast collections. Her knowledge and enthusiasm for the collection allowed for a diverse range of interests to emerge from the young people during the 10-week programme. Young people created unique responses to the collections, including animations, rap music tracks, felt working, lantern building, photography, splatter painting, and even sock painting (!).

Celebrating the participants success © Pitt Rivers Museum
In each session, the young people arrive to a series of quick-fire warm up activities. As a group, they decide and write up a plan for the day, and then they get exploring! Small groups can wander into the Pitt Rivers Museum with Beth to find inspiration, some stay in the Museum annexe, where they explore artforms, and other curiosities. Each young person has a tailored programme, including varying levels of structure and outputs. During their 10 week session, young people get to complete an Arts Award. Most have achieved a Bronze Award, but one young person has used her Kick Arts work towards a Gold Arts Award. The award is administered by Carmen Hoepper, who works as the project Manager for Kick Arts on the OYAP Trust side. 

The Project has been funded under the HLF Young Roots grant for the past three years. In this time, there have been three, different, but equally amazing programmes. On March 26th 2018, the final programme came to a close with a celebration event. This was a chance for friends, family members, and participating young people to reflect on the amazing work they achieved. Here are some of the comments from the event....

Please continue, please expand. This work is invaluable to children who are talented and amazing, yet don’t always fit the box of the mainstream

Thank you for believing in x. thank you for showing her she can be herself and thrive. Thank you for a lovely social environment in which to learn and give.

She has a depth of talent and imagination that as I parent I did not have the skill to help her with. She has been inspired and liberated.

Xxxx is proud of his artwork and believes he can do- and that it is important HE is pleased with his work and feeling valued. 
Socks and friendship © Pitt Rivers Museum

Over 50 people attended this celebration event, including stakeholders from the wider sector (Oxford University Museums, GLAM partners, Oxford City Council, County Council, Arts Council England and HLF representatives). The young people had worked with Modern Art Oxford Curator Emma Ridgway to present their final artworks in a thoughtful and artfully constructed space. VIP guests to the celebration event could then view this artwork as part of the celebration event. Beth, Carmen, Charlie and other organisers gave short speeches on the importance of this work, and the digital pieces of art were shown to the attendees on a projector. 

The celebration event received press coverage by the local BBC Regional news, and a piece was aired on the 6 O’Clock news on the 27th March. 

Participant talking to the director of the museum about the inspiration for his work
© Pitt Rivers Museum
A unique aspect to the Kick Arts programme are the opportunities for emerging artists and art educators. Every session involved local young Artists (18-25) who want to gain experience in participatory arts projects like this, so they have the experience and skills to take forwards in their chosen career path. The young artists are also closer in age to the young people, demonstrating an achievable and aspirational angle for young people who are inspired to do work in the Arts sector. The high ratio of artists, facilitators, young artists also means the participants often get 1:1 support during the day. 

Charlie Henry talking to the BBC © Pitt Rivers Museum
Another highly successful aspect was the flexibility with which the sessions were run. The young people were able to follow their own interests, and take control over their own learning. This sense of empowerment was important for these young people, as they gained confidence to take on new challenges and be inspired by what they could achieve. This resulted from the high ratio of staff to young people, and also due to the flexibility and responsiveness of the way each session was run. 

The Kick Arts concept was incredibly successful. Its strengths were in its leadership, its staffing, its bespoke approach, and its legacy.

Kick Arts may have completed its last session under the HLF funding, but its future is still looking bright. The Pitt Youth Action Team is another feeder outlet for young people who have completed the Kick Arts programme and still want to continue a relationship with the museum. The Kick Arts concept will continue in the future, with both OYAP and the Pitt Rivers keen to maintain and progress their relationship and partnerships. The Pitt Rivers Director, Laura Van Brockhoeven is hugely supportive of continuing this important work with young people in the future.

I am really pleased that the momentum built during the Kick Arts programmes is still continuing, and that the Pitt Rivers Museum is sustaining its relationship with OYAP Trust, and supporting the running of this amazing project.

Kelly Smith
Secondary, Further Education and Young People Officer

Friday, 11 May 2018

Telling stories from things - a 'Dance of Defiance'

Every May, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Natural History take part in the annual Museums at Night festival, inviting visitors in for an after hours spectacular! As part of this May's event, Storyteller JC Niala, has created a special performance in response to the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, a Giriama woman who led a successful rebellion against the British Colonial forces around the time of WW1. Read JC's blog post to find out why she has chosen to share Mekatilili wa Menza's story inside the Museum. You can book your free tickets to see JC's performance here: 

Pitt Rivers Museum lit up for an after hours event © Pitt Rivers Museum

Telling stories from things

I love museums, to me they are like walking into a visual library. As well as looking at all the interesting objects, I am always curious about their stories. If I see a woven basket for example, I cannot help but think about the life of the person that made it. Did they make it to use everyday? As a gift? I find myself looking for signs on the object that might give me clues as to the maker’s intention and also to its use.

1945.10.143: 'Bells for tying to legs when dancing at Ngomas' © Pitt Rivers Museum

An object from the collections that will inspire JC's story 

I always think about the people who are connected to the objects – especially because they are not there. I do this the most at the Pitt Rivers Museum because although it is an amazing collection, I can’t help but wonder exactly how all those objects were collected. During colonial times, there was often a power imbalance that meant the collector had access to things that were not meant to end up in a museum.

I spend a lot of time in the Pitt Rivers Museum thinking about the things that are there now and what processes led to them being there. Because I am a storyteller, I like the fact that there is not much information on the gallery labels. It doesn’t get in the way of my imagination and allows me to be a detective. It also means that unlike with other museums, I study the object in detail rather than walk around just reading labels as can happen.

1906.34.32: 'Very large friction drum © Pitt Rivers Museum

JC will use objects like this drum to research and tell the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, a woman who led a successful rebellion against British Colonial forces. 

Sometimes, I hear or learn about a true story and it works the other way. I go to the Pitt Rivers on a mission to find out if they have in the collections the object that will make the story come alive for me and for my audience. That is the case with the current story that I am telling in Oxford and London. It’s called ‘Dance of Defiance’ and tells the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, a Giriama woman who led a successful rebellion against the British Colonial forces around the time of WW1.

When I first read the story, I couldn’t quite believe it – it’s a fantastic tale that even though has a sad beginning, is actually full of courage, resilience, hope and love. It drew me in because it also took place at a time where important international historical events were happening and yet here was one woman from East Africa who changed the course of not just her own history but that of the people that she led.

1929.1.2: 'Fire making set' © Pitt Rivers Museum

Objects like this will help JC tell the Dance of Defiance.

The story also stirred me because she was a fearless woman leader. When I went to the Pitt Rivers with her story, I was hoping for at best an item that might have been linked to the Giriama people who she led. What was in the collections was more than I expected. In it are examples of two key tools that she used to resist the colonial army. I will never know for sure if they belonged to her, but they come from the exact time period that she was active in her leadership.

To find out what the tools and the rest of her story are, the clue is in the title of my show ‘Dance of Defiance’. You can hear me tell it at the late night at the Pitt Rivers Museum on Friday 18thof May. 

- JC Niala....

You can book your free tickets here: We'll post a video of JC's performance inside the Pitt Rivers Museum after the come back and take a look after the 18th May! You can find out more about JC by following her on Twitter (@jcniala) or by visiting her website: (Jozie Kettle, Public Engagement with Research Officer).  

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Armchair Gallery- Take a Seat

As part of the Meet Me at the Museum social programme for older people, the Pitt Rivers Museum were invited by Nottingham City Arts to take part in the Armchair Gallery. The Armchair Gallery supports older people to access cultural spaces from the comfort of their armchairs, ensuring those that might not be able to physically access the museum can immerse themselves in the museum and collection.

Developed by Nottingham City Arts and funded by Arts Council England and Nominet Trust, the Armchair Gallery has supported cultural places across the country to film collections highlights and their spaces, taking older people on a guided tour that immerses them in the collections from the comfort of their armchairs. The ACE and Baring Foundation and subsequent Nominet trust funding has supported Nottingham City Arts to work with seven venues including the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Lowry, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and Chatsworth House.

When it came to thinking about the Pitt Rivers Museum's contribution to the Armchair Gallery it was tricky to think how best to capture the collection. To ensure objects filmed from the Pitt River's 50,000 displayed objects were representative but also interesting the intended audience the Meet Me at the Museum group of older people selected objects that interested them to include in the Pitt Rivers tour. Members of staff from across the museum then helped to film some of these objects including some well known and lesser known objects from the collections, from Japanese Samurai armour to English Morris costumes to Navajo squash flower jewellery [1946.3.2.B]

South West Navajo, Squash Flower Necklace, Pitt Rivers Museum
South West Navajo, Squash Flower Necklace [1946.3.2.B]
 © Pitt Rivers Museum
On 15th January Helen Fountain and I travelled to Nottingham City Castle Museum and Art Gallery to find out more about how the Armchair Gallery has developed since our 'starring roles' in the August films making.

Alongside the films, Nottingham City Arts are working with digital makers to develop an accessible app. Aimed primarily at older people and those living with Dementia the app is accessible to a wide range of people with (and without) additional needs and uses interactive digital activities to bring the seven collections to life. This includes repainting areas of Lowry paintings with the touch of a finger, playing a harpsichord from Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, and experimenting with the colours of a digital portrait on display at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

To ensure that we were mindful of cultural appropriation, the Pitt Rivers objects have been selected from European collections. This has led to a Greek pot from the Middle Bronze Age [1884.38.9] on a potter’s wheel which you can throw and design your own pot, manipulating the colours, textures and shape and a matching game based on the animals of a German Noah's Ark [1956.70.1]. The app is being designed to be totally accessible and includes short clips about the objects filmed with the Pitt Rivers team to provide context to the activity. These app activities are designed to be the springboard to supported programming with older people designed to be led by artists, museum facilitators and care home activity coordinators. This has been successfully piloted with Nottingham's local care homes with support from Clare Ford from reengage and artists. 

Noah's Ark, Germany, and the Armchair Gallery Matching Pairs game
Noah's Ark, Germany [1956.9.70.1]and the Armchair Gallery
Matching Pairs App © Pitt Rivers Museum
What is lovely about the app are the simple digital interactions you can have with collection materials, which can engage all age groups and needs. The Armchair Gallery enables users to explore new objects and collections creating exciting stimuli for conversations. From personal experience I know that sometimes visiting a relative in a care setting can be quite challenging with conversations repeating themselves. The Armchair Gallery app enables families and carers to explore new knowledge and play together, giving them new things to talk about with people living with dementia or in care settings.

Middle Bronze Age Pot, Cyprus, Pitt Rivers Museum
Middle Bronze Age Pot, Cyprus [1884.38.9]
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Armchair Gallery, testing out the Potter's wheel
Armchair Gallery App, testing out the Potter's Wheel
© Pitt Rivers Museum
The Armchair Gallery films and app will be launched later this year, in time for the next set of MMAM at the Pitt Rivers.

The brilliant thing for me, are the networks and connections the Armchair Gallery creates, internally and externally. Internally, by working across the collections and Public Engagement teams, and externally, not only for the older people who will be able to virtually visit new cultural spaces but between carers and the person they care for and between professionals across the cultural and health and wellbeing sector.
Me at the Armchair Gallery Meet Up, Nottingham, January 2018
Me at the Armchair Gallery Meet Up, Nottingham, January 2018

Beth McDougall
Families and Communities Public Engagement Officer