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Objects and memories of the end of empire

Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, Deputy Keeper of Anthropology, speaks about colonialism, the end of empire and the narratives it has formed for British life today.

In April 2011, I was in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone when people celebrated 50 years of independence from British colonialism. The whole city was decked out in green, white and blue, the national colours of Sierra Leone. Women wove green white and blue into their hair, motorbike riders decorated their bikes with flags, and people were dressed ready to celebrate and party hard. Sierra Leone became independent on the 27th of April 1961. This was a largely peaceful event, although colonialism in Sierra Leone had itself been punctuated by violence.

  • Tailors attached to the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs in Freetown, Tailors attached to the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs in Freetown, working long hours to finish a commission of flags for the Independence Day celebrations in 2011. , Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Tailors attached to the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs in Freetown, working long hours to finish a commission of flags for the Independence Day celebrations in 2011. , Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp

This got me thinking about how we in Britain remember the end of the British Empire. It was not so long ago. By the end of WWII, it was widely accepted that British colonialism would draw to a close and by the 1960s, the majority of Britain's colonies had become independent.

Although memories of WWII continue to play an important public role, memories of colonialism are less visible. Yet the events that surrounded it continue to shape British life today. Although many people agree that the end of colonialism was an important moment in British history, it is certainly not something that is widely celebrated or publicly talked about much.

In 2016, I started a research project looking at objects, letters, films and photographs collected during the end of the British Empire in Africa, sitting in museums across the UK. This means they were collected between about 1940 and 1980. When it became clear to the British government that colonialism was no longer sustainable after WWII, they encouraged ever more migration from Britain into the empire.

  • A photograph of Roger Brain in Ibadan, A photograph of Roger Brain in Ibadan, 1962. Roger Brain was an agricultural scientist born in Wiltshire, who worked in both Sudan and Nigeria. In Ibadan, he contributed to the introduction of milk-producing Friesian cows.
    A photograph of Roger Brain in Ibadan, 1962. Roger Brain was an agricultural scientist born in Wiltshire, who worked in both Sudan and Nigeria. In Ibadan, he contributed to the introduction of milk-producing Friesian cows.

When former British colonies, like Sierra Leone, became independent, many families with British citizenship, whether born in Britain or in Africa, chose to leave.

  • Photograph of Audrey Brain, Photograph of Audrey Brain and one of her daughters up the Eiffel Tower in 1969, the year they left Nigeria and moved to Paris.
    Photograph of Audrey Brain and one of her daughters up the Eiffel Tower in 1969, the year they left Nigeria and moved to Paris.

Many left with the objects that were important to them. Some donated these objects to museums immediately, but most displayed them or stored them away in their homes. These collections have been offered to museums over the last 50 years, and I am interested in what they can tell us.

Museum collections from the end of the empire were usually collected by British teachers, scientists, artists, missionaries, or academics, as well as colonial officers. These pieces often reflect everyday family life, but also reflect a moment of transformation.

  • Independence Day celebrations in Ibadan, Independence Day celebrations in Ibadan, October 1960. Photograph taken by Roger Brain at the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium
    Independence Day celebrations in Ibadan, October 1960. Photograph taken by Roger Brain at the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium

  • Members of the Lukolela Baptist congregation, being baptised in the Congo River, the 1950s., Members of the Lukolela Baptist congregation, being baptised in the Congo River, the 1950s. It was taken by Rev. Lionel West, a missionary for the Baptist Missionary Society, who lived in Lukolela from 1930 up until Congolese independence in 1960.
    Members of the Lukolela Baptist congregation, being baptised in the Congo River, the 1950s. It was taken by Rev. Lionel West, a missionary for the Baptist Missionary Society, who lived in Lukolela from 1930 up until Congolese independence in 1960.
 

For example, they contain items made for sale by artists involved in an increasingly established art scene, including known carvers, weavers, potters, textile dyers or painters.

  • Carving of a Ntumpane drummer by Osei Bonsu, Carving of a Ntumpane drummer by Osei Bonsu, an established Ashanti carver based in Accra at the time he created this piece, probably in the late 1930s. Collected by Arthur Casswell Spooner. , Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
    Carving of a Ntumpane drummer by Osei Bonsu, an established Ashanti carver based in Accra at the time he created this piece, probably in the late 1930s. Collected by Arthur Casswell Spooner. , Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

  • 1968.434, An intricate painted piece of Adire Eleko., 1968.434, An intricate painted piece of Adire Eleko. The pattern is painted with cassava starch, then dyed in indigo. The price of Adire soared in Ibadan the mid-1960s due to the rising popularity of this cloth in post-independence Nigeria. , Horniman Museum and Gardens
    1968.434, An intricate painted piece of Adire Eleko. The pattern is painted with cassava starch, then dyed in indigo. The price of Adire soared in Ibadan the mid-1960s due to the rising popularity of this cloth in post-independence Nigeria. , Horniman Museum and Gardens

They also contain objects that reflect changing currencies of value. Such as religious or ceremonial objects that were sold. Items were possibly sold because they were no longer considered powerful or perhaps money held a different but greater form of power.

  • 1970.33, A ceremonial knife, 1970.33, A ceremonial knife purchased by Rev. Lionel West near Lukolela in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1950s. , Horniman Museum and Gardens
    1970.33, A ceremonial knife purchased by Rev. Lionel West near Lukolela in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1950s. , Horniman Museum and Gardens

I have also been looking at collections that reflect moments where the British Government attempted to forcefully contain resistance to colonialism. This includes the violent military campaign against Mau Mau fighters in the 1950s in Kenya, which involved the detention and torturing of Mau Mau suspects.

  • Aluminium replica watch, This aluminium replica watch was made by a convict in the small district prison in Karatina, Kenya. They were collected by Terrence J. Image, a prison officer who worked in both prisons and detention camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau insurgency., Imperial War Museum
    This aluminium replica watch was made by a convict in the small district prison in Karatina, Kenya. They were collected by Terrence J. Image, a prison officer who worked in both prisons and detention camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau insurgency., Imperial War Museum

What interests me is the way in which these objects often enable an understanding of the very complicated ways in which the end of empire was experienced and is remembered by those who lived through it. Sometimes these competing narratives make it very difficult to speak openly about this shared period in our history and to listen to those whose experience differs from our own. However, I do think we need to talk about it, to listen, and to understand the many ways our colonial past continues to affect our lives today. I hope that my research can help with that.

Do you or your family have memories or collections from Africa at the end of empire?

Rituals and Food Across the Globe

During January, we take on new habits to eat healthier or cut down on things like alcohol, but have you ever wondered what food habits and rituals happen in other countries?

In the World Gallery, you can get to know the everyday rituals and ceremonies about food from across the continents through more than 3,000 objects and stories.

  • Image-1 (Module)---World-Gallery, World Gallery, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    World Gallery, Horniman Museum and Gardens

Asia

In Tibet, tea and tsampa have become so iconic that the act of mixing the ingredients has its own sign in Tibetan sign language.

A main food source for Tibetan Nomads, salted yak butter tea and tsampa (roasted and ground barley), form a nutritious and revitalising porridge that can be prepared even in harsh weather conditions. For Tibetans living abroad, eating and preparing traditional food is a powerful link to their homeland.

Watch Shapaley’s music video about the iconic food below.

Africa

The Mbendjele people of the Congo region are hunter-gathers that have existed in the Central African rainforest for 40,000 years. Hunter-gatherers live on whatever the land provides and do not farm or grow food themselves.

The Mbendjele people believe that everyone is equal and live in a society that has no leaders, grand buildings or poverty. There is no word for ‘famine’ in their language as the forest provides every resource they need.

  • Red River Hog, 1906.5.25.1 , Red River Hog, 1906.5.25.1 , Item on loan courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London
    Red River Hog, 1906.5.25.1 , Item on loan courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The Tuareg people are a diverse group spread across Algeria, Liberia, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. They call themselves Kel Tagelmoust, "People of the Veil."

To show hospitality, the Tuareg have a ceremony of serving tea to visitors, which is drunk before and after work. Sugar is mixed into the tea (usually black tea) and sometimes mint. Often two teapots are used to mix the tea and sugar, pouring it back and forth from one pot into the other. The tea is then served in small tea glasses. Three glasses of tea are usually drunk in succession, getting sweeter with each glass. The first one is bitter like life, the second one is sweet like love and the third is light like a breath of death.

  • Ilbarad, 1971.1049, Ilbarad, 1971.1049, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Ilbarad, 1971.1049, Horniman Museum and Gardens

Oceania

Across Polynesia, people share a similar understanding of mana as power, effectiveness and as prestige of divine origin. In Fiji, mana is often associated with chiefs and healers. Mana also exists within objects.

Drinking Kava is a major rite in all rituals and when receiving honoured guests. There are strict rules for the preparation of the drink and it is drunk in order of rank at chiefly rituals.

Kava is made from mixing the root of the Piper methysticum plant with water, in a special wooden bowl or tanoa. When drunk, kava produces feelings of calm and encourages contemplation and conversation. Kava has its own mana and is associated with the power of the land.

  • Kava root (Piper methysticum), nn4526, Kava root (Piper methysticum), nn4526, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Kava root (Piper methysticum), nn4526, Horniman Museum and Gardens

Europe

In villages across Poland, brown Polish bread is eaten with so many meals, it’s considered a national food. At New Year, ritual bread called Nowe Latko (New Summer) are baked in north-east Poland. These breads hang in prominent places in the home, such as a home altar, to promote prosperity in the New Year. The dough would show a householder surrounded by geese, set on a magical ring to protect against evil.

  • Bread Figure, 20.11.63/55, Bread Figure, 20.11.63/55, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Bread Figure, 20.11.63/55, Horniman Museum and Gardens

In some places dough, cheese or gingerbread figures are made for special occasions. In the Zakopane area, Redykołka cheese figures were given to family members when shepherds brought their flocks down from the mountains to the village.

  • Figure (food sample), 18.2.59/7, Figure (food sample), 18.2.59/7, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Figure (food sample), 18.2.59/7, Horniman Museum and Gardens

America

Our final stop is in the Americas, where we see that the special relationship the Arctic people have with nature and animals.

Providing essential energy to survive the extreme cold as food and as fuel for lamps, animal fat is one of the most important resources in the Artic.

  • Bucket, 17.13, Bucket, 17.13, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Bucket, 17.13, Horniman Museum and Gardens

The bucket, pictured above, held blubber: fat from sea mammals. The decoration of carved whales, polar bears and seals shows thanks and respect to the hunted animals. The Inuit use every part of an animal and believe they possess special attributes, which enable them to survive the cold. Using the animal skins, women would use most of their time making clothing for the community.

  • Coat, 6.12.65/653, Coat, 6.12.65/653, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Coat, 6.12.65/653, Horniman Museum and Gardens

Have you heard of the cassava root? It’s a starchy vegetable native to Central and South America that grows steadily in the Amazon rainforest.

The indigenous Waiwai eat lots of this vegetable but it has to be prepared properly, as it contains a poison called cyanide.

This cassava grater pictured below was made and used by the Waiwai people. It takes a long time to make, as tiny sharp stones have to be placed in to small holes in the wood, and then sticky tree resin is applied to hold everything in place. Once the cassava has been grated, it is then placed in a squeezer to drain out the poisonous juices. Then the washed and dried cassava is used to make flour, which can be baked into large flatbreads.

  • Cassava grater, 1969.88, Cassava grater, 1969.88, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Cassava grater, 1969.88, Horniman Museum and Gardens

All over the world, there are many different customs and rituals that happen around food. What are some of yours?

Learn more about everyday cultures in the World Gallery and on our YouTube channel. You can also download learning resources to help you navigate our World Gallery.

 

Your messages in the World Gallery

In the World Gallery you can discover what it means to be human but we also ask what is important to you. We’ve rounded up some of the messages and thoughts visitors left across January.

Have you left a wish, or said thank you on our Cloutie Tree? Below are a few of our visitors’ most recent messages.

I wish for prosperity and positivity in 2019. Speak what you want in existence and believe that it will come true.

I wish to get healthy again.

I wish for a digger, a giraffe, and a pirate ship.


Keep pushing on.

 

In January, many wish for wellbeing and set goals for the coming year. We’ve put together a guide to walking the Horniman, its architecture and some of the surprises in the Museum to help get your new year off to a great start.

One visitor said, Daffodils remind me of my mum, water and they trumpet in the Gardens.

Daffodils will certainly be back in the Gardens in a few weeks and from 28 January, the Gardens will be open until 5.20pm.

Carmen wishes for peace and freedom for Venezuela.

It was Penguin Awareness Day on 20 January and one visitor has drawn a lovely pair of penguins. You can keep up with up to date news and facts on our twitter feed.

One visitor lost their Johnny Rocket necklace with their son's name and D.O.B on it in Crete. We hope it finds its way back to you.

And happy 40th birthday to Katie, who drew this shark.

Keep sharing your thoughts and drawings with us in the World Gallery and you may be featured on the blog.

About the Art: Sonia Levy

We spoke to artist Sonia Levy about her involvement in working with the Horniman on Project Coral and her upcoming film For the Love of Corals.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a French artist living in London. I studied fine art in France and later went on to follow a programme in Arts and Politics (SPEAP) at Sciences Po, a political science school in Paris. It furthered my approach of working across disciplines exploring the points of articulation between scientific and artistic fields to address societal issues.

Climate change is a consequence of our ways of perceiving the natural world as a resource to be endlessly extracted.

I am currently interested in how art might help redefine our relationship with the Earth. Livability on our planet is dependent on the presence of its many life forms. I think we are starting to see those new scientific understandings enacted in environmental conservation but we also need the arts to filter those paradigm-shifting ideas into our society and culture.

What is the film about?

For the Love of Corals is an artist film that follows Project Coral through the different stages involved in reproducing the corals behind-the-scenes at the Horniman.

It documents the daily labour of the team caring for these endangered beings as well as the corals themselves, encouraging attention to their intricacy. From spawning induced in lab-tanks replicating lunar and solar cycles, to the delicate IVF procedures, as well as the constant care required to keep the corals alive throughout their life cycle.

For the Love of Corals (2018) Trailer from Sonia Levy.

The film also includes shots of artefacts from the Horniman's collections, such as the 19th-century Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions. The opening sequence of the film confronts images of Atkins’ seaweed cyanotypes to close-up shots of the corals.

  • Coral close-up and Anna Atkinsâ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Soni, Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

Anna Ricciardi’s essay on Anna Atkins, written for Edward Chell's 2015 exhibition Bloom at the Horniman, really moved me. She says:

As we face an accelerating environmental crisis in this century, Atkins’ seaweed impressions surface with something like visionary timing, having slipped their privately-published moorings, to remind us about extinctions past and present, those erasures and absences yet to come.

It deeply resonated with an angle I wanted to take, a feminist approach to questioning the moment we find ourselves in. Climate change, ecological collapses: who are the most affected and vulnerable?

There is a growing sense of an interlaced precarity between humans and the other life forms with whom we share this planet. I think it might be crucial to develop a more inclusive sense of “we”.

A site like the Horniman Museum and Gardens, with its Natural History Gallery, is a powerful place to revisit our past, our ways of looking at and relating to nature.

It is also a compelling site to build and develop new connections as seen with the work of Project Coral.

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. Photo: Obsidian Coast, Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast

The soundtrack was made in collaboration with sound artist Jez Riley French and involved many recording techniques made on site.

We used hydrophones and underwater microphones to capture the sound of some of Project Coral’s critters. Contact microphones picked up the resonance of surfaces around the Museum and the laboratory tanks. They are able to capture vibrations through contact with solid objects.

Adapted geophones, used to transfer ground movement to sound, allowed us to record the vibrations of the complex machinery sustaining the corals’ life. Electromagnetic signals emanating from the laboratory equipment were also captured with coil pick up microphones.

Jez also captured the sound of the skeleton of a coral dissolving, alluding to ocean acidification. These recordings, as well as music from composer Georgia Rodgers, are all part of the soundtrack composed for the film.

I also created a large-scale tapestry made from cyanotypes on fabric, which is part of the film installation. Titled Atkins Blue the work is a direct reference to Anna Atkins, an acknowledgement to her contribution in the history of science and art.       

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast

In conjunction with my exhibition, Obsidian Coast commissioned a reading list; We are All Bodies of Water, from scholar Astrida Neimanis.

What drew you to Project Coral?

I spent a spawning season with the team at Project Coral, through the invitation of Jamie Craggs. I was really fascinated by what they achieved.

To be the first in the world to successfully induce coral to spawn by recreating the environmental conditions of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as other locations like Singapore, in the basement of the Horniman, for me was a powerful and striking image.

Coral bleaching appears simultaneously as a sign of climate change, their death providing visual evidence of the rising of the sea temperature. As anthropologist Irus Braverman has put it, corals emerge as a 'catalyst for action'* for many activists, scientists and artists.

Corals are stunning entities and coral reefs are some of the most beautiful ecological assemblages on Earth. The corals’ ability to perplex the notion of individuality, the distinction between self and other. There is something interesting about the figure of the coral and its capacity to blur the boundaries between organism and environment, expressing this idea that we are environments for others, as well as not being separated from our environment.

I have also worked with Project Coral to produce a short film, viewable on site at the Horniman's Aquarium, as well as online. We worked with Jamie Craggs’ research footage to tell Project Coral's ongoing work and explain its workings. I wanted the visitors to catch a glimpse of this vital research happening behind-the-scenes.

What techniques did you use to document the coral?

Some of the most extraordinary ways of filming involved coral larvae shot through a microscope. The larvae are no bigger than 1mm and I could see the cilia, the hair-like organs that propel them.

  • Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We documented the coral in other ways, such as the use of macro lenses and under blue light (actinic light), which produced a beautiful result. When pointed at corals it makes the symbiotic algae living within their tissue fluoresce.

  • Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We also collaborated with Jamie to make microscope time lapses of coral embryos development, as well as egg-sperm bundle dissociation.

  • Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy:, Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy
    Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy

What is your favourite moment from the film?

To film the juvenile corals I saw coming to life in 2017 as yearlings, but still no bigger than a thumbnail.

It was very moving for me to film them under blue light and see how they acquired their symbiotic algae. I also loved to plunge at the scale of those tiny corals and see the many critters and microorganisms living alongside them.

  • 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

What is the next stage of this project and for you?

I am working with Obsidian Coast on a publication around the project, to be released in 2019. Additionally, I have a few screenings and exhibitions of the project planned in France, the US and Germany. But, what I am really interested in doing is to carrying on filming and progressing the project.

I would like to go to Florida where Project Coral is working in partnership with the Florida Aquarium Centre for Conservation. It would be really exciting to see how Project Coral’s methods are being used to help restore damaged reefs there.


For the Love of Corals is on view at Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon, until the 26 of January. For the Love of Corals was produced with the support of Obsidian Coast and Fluxus Art Projects. Sonia Levy wishes to thank Jamie Craggs, Project Coral team and the Horniman Museum and Gardens for their in-kind support.                                                               

 

* Irus Braverman (2018), Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink,University of California Press.

Walking the Horniman

Walking is one of the simplest exercises we can do; even 10-minute brisk walks can have great benefits to our overall health. We’ve put together a walking guide to the Horniman, its architecture and some of the surprises in the Museum.

The architectural walk

  • Clock Tower, Sophia Spring
    , Sophia Spring

The impressive Clocktower, made from Doutling Stone has become an iconic feature of the Horniman Museum and Gardens. Originally built in 1901, it’s a glowing beacon on top of Forest Hill. The clock tower was further extended in 1911 by Emslie Horniman, son of our founder Frederick Horniman.

Both the original building and the Emslie Horniman extension were designed by Charles Harrison Townsend.

Once you have admired the front of the building, take a walk around it to the left and you’ll find the green-roofed CUE building, which houses our Library and some offices.

The CUE building opened in 1996 and was designed by local architects Architype using methods developed by Walter Segal. The grass roof has been constructed with sustainable materials and CUE stands for Centre for Understanding the Environment.

An ecological survey of the Library building’s green roof recorded 52 insect species living there, including a rare type of ant and other unusual species. We also have a living roof on our Pavilion. They are self-sustaining and, no, we don’t mow them!

Past the Museum entrance and the Café is the Conservatory on the right.

Originally built in 1894, the grade ll Victorian Conservatory was an extension of the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon. Having been abandoned for many years and in a derelict state, the Conservatory was moved to the Horniman in the 1980s and opened in 1987. The Conservatory today holds some beautiful events and even weddings, and is occasionally used by the Café as a pop-up tea room. It’s even been featured in magazines such as Vogue.

Read in more detail about the conservatory’s reconstruction and history.

Continue up the avenue and you will reach the Bandstand terrace with the beautiful views over London behind it.

The Bandstand dates from 1912 and was also designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. It was renovated in 2012 with new floorboards, its original weather vane was restored, and screens which blocked the windows for decades were replaced with glass. The Bandstand and the modern Pavilion (built in 2012) both offer beautiful views of the Meadow Field below, Dawson’s Heights and London’s skyline.

Behind you is the Dutch Barn. Frederick Horniman brought this small building back from Holland and it dates from around 1895. It now provides a useful indoor shelter for picnics in inclement weather.

Read more about Horniman’s architecture.

The interactive walk

Play a tune and tap a beat on the musical sculptures in the Sound Garden, the sounds echo throughout the acres connecting the Gardens to the music collections in the Museum.

Visit the Animal Walk to meet the rabbits, alpacas and sheep, as well as goats and guinea pigs. These living specimens connect us to Fredrick Horniman’s vision of linking the outside to the inside of the Horniman. Linking to the Museum’s Natural History collections, it looks at the connection between domesticated animals and their wild relations, and why people live alongside domesticated animals.

Stop by the Butterfly House, which is a warming comfort in the colder months and full of delightful creatures and plants all year round. Learn about the different species and life-cycles of these beautiful creatures from around the world, in a tropical habitat with over 500 plants.

Step into the Museum and head to the Nature Base, where you can learn about the behaviours of the wildlife living in the city. View insects close up, touch a taxidermy fox or badger, and see the harvest mice scurry. The honey bees are busy in their transparent home, making honey in their special hive.

Down the stairs and in the World Gallery you can leave your thoughts and wishes on the Cloutie tree. In the British Isles people have tied scraps of fabric to trees that grow near sacred wells or springs for thousands of years, to wish for wellbeing or thanks. Look at the wishes of others, and leave your thoughts on the tree or in our feedback area for others to ponder over.

Through to The Studio and The Lore of the Land exhibition by artist Serena Korda and the Horniman Collective. After viewing the exhibition, taking in the sounds and smells coming from the artworks, add your thoughts about how plants feel about humans to the feedback wall.

Downstairs we have our Aquarium, where you can watch all manner of aquatic life, from hopping frogs to floating jellyfish.

  • Child at aquarium tank with Jellyfish, Laura Mtungwazi Beaullah
    , Laura Mtungwazi Beaullah

Gardens Walk

Wander through the Grasslands Garden, with wild landscapes featuring spectacular plants from North American prairie and South African grasslands. Its naturalistic planting scheme was devised by Olympic Park designer James Hitchmough and made to complement the World Gallery.

Our Sunken Gardens are a hive for botanical plants.

Admire the old olive trees before taking in the Medicine Garden. Planted in ten ‘body part’ sections, the Medicine Garden features a range of plants used to treat illness in different areas of our body. Some are local remedies that have persisted through time while others have formed the basis of modern medicines.

Next to this is the Dye Garden. Read about natural dyes and the processes used draw the dye from the plants, with different colours grouped between coloured yarn.

Admire the planting in the display around the pond. Built in 1936, the Arts and Crafts style Sunken Garden has spectacular floral displays which area planted for spring and late summer.

Behind this is the Materials Garden, featuring plants used by people around the world to make products as diverse as building materials to textiles and musical instruments.

Take a stroll up towards the Bandstand and you will pass the Pollinator bed. This border opposite the Bandstand contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

Follow the path higher and you will reach the Prehistoric Garden, complete with velociraptor. Prehistoric plants and living fossils are planted with information to tell you about which dinosaurs they appealed to.

Walk past the Prehistoric Garden to the South Downs meadow. This is a secluded and peaceful spot that is often quieter, featuring Canadian maple trees and spring flowers, like snowdrops and crocuses. Offering views of Kent on the eastern edge of the site, it’s a perfect spot for a little picnic.

The Sundial Trail

Have you spotted any sundials whilst walking the Gardens? There actually 12 of them and some may be read differently from what you may think. 

Solar time is a bit different from clock time. We use clock time, day to day, based on 24 hours of equal length. However, solar time changes slightly day to day due to the tilt of the earth and its elliptical orbit around the sun. Have a go at finding them all, or cheat a little and use this handy little guide.

This is just a small slice of the walks around the Horniman. Have an adventure and see what wonders you can find. 

New year, new resolutions

It’s a brand new year and usually, that means we say goodbye to our old ways and give ourselves new goals to aspire to. Setting New Year’s resolutions is a tradition around the world, so what resolutions have you made? To give you some ideas, we have rounded up some resolutions to help you get your year off to a great start. 

Be more active

 

You may not want to sweat out in the gym and purchase that expensive gym membership. So how about a run, walk or even a stroll in our Gardens?

Apart from the health benefits from exercise, a walk in our Gardens is free and, no matter the season, there are always new blooms of life flourishing across our 16 acres of land. Have a play in the interactive sound garden, walk your dogs or discover quiet corners for contemplation.

There are also proven mental health benefits to spending time in nature, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety. So discover what our gardeners and curators have developed outdoors, to coincide with the Museum’s collections

Read a few more books

Did you know that every 1st Sunday of the month our library opens its doors to the public without any need for an appointment? The collection contains books covering anthropology to illustrated monographs and now has over 30,000 volumes.

The library is also staffed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open to researchers on these days by appointment (please email enquiry@horniman.ac.uk).

Or, if you want to read more with your children, you can find books on our Natural History Gallery Balcony and a reading corner on our World Gallery Balcony.

Spend more time with family and friends

The Horniman offers many free activities, whether you are visiting alone, with a friend or with family.

From photographic displays on our World Gallery Balcony to our permanent collections, from exhibitions like The Lore of the Land to displays like EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, there is always something to see and to think about.

In the Hands on Base, you can get closer to artefacts and objects. Whether you are interested in Mexican masks or want to learn more about endangered animals, who knows what you will discover in our free object-handling sessions.

Culture has a positive impact on wellness, so making some time for yourself in places like the Horniman, really can help you feel better.

View our Whats On calendar to see current and upcoming events and exhibitions.

Give something back to your community

  • Youth Panel , Balistic
    , Balistic

Volunteering gives an opportunity to give back to your local community, which has social benefits for groups like the over 40s.

Keep an eye on our website for ways to get involved or follow us on LinkedIn to hear about new opportunities.

If you’re aged between 14 and 19 and are interested in making a difference at the Horniman, why don’t you join the Horniman Youth Panel?


Whether it’s new year, new you or new year, same you, we hope you have a happy 2019 at the Horniman.

Learning Team's Top 5 Curiosity Countdown

Rose Want, Schools Learning Officer, tells us about her favourite discoveries from the Learning Team’s end of year clean of the Hands on Base.

The end of the year means only two things for the Learning Team. One: even more cake than usual. Two: the annual Hands on Base clean up.

On the last Friday of term, the whole team got together to give the space a spruce up.

Since joining the Horniman back in September as a School’s Learning Officer, I have spent most of my time getting to grips with our learning sessions and familiarising myself with their associated objects. The Hands on Base clean gave me the chance to explore some of the 3,000-plus items in the handling collection. My colleagues managed to dig out often-overlooked favourites.

So, without further ado, here is the rundown of our top five curiosities from this years’ clean…

Number five

Some objects in the handling collection are so beautiful, they can’t go unmentioned. This frame holds 44 small samples of treated wood from all over the world.

The original use of this piece is unknown, yet it stands as a testament to the incredible diversity and beauty of natural materials.

Number four

Ever heard of a Cricket Tickler? Me neither.

It’s something like a feather duster in miniature and is part of a toolkit used to hand-rear crickets. It's meant to make unsuspecting insect buzz in surprise when tickled.

Number three

I absolutely did not expect to find an English grammer practice toy, amongst the Ancient Egyptian artefacts, Chinese drawing tools and taxidermy birds. The toy from Tamil Nadu proclaims, “Know your English tenses!” using a handy rotation system to help you perfect your passive simple tense.”

If you didn’t want to know this before, you will now. All together then, “I ate rice, you ate rice, he ate rice, she ate rice…”

Number two

I like things that make a lot of noise. The next two items will attest to that.

This Jew’s harp all the way from Borneo actually has nothing to do with Judaism or harps.

Its name comes from Jaw Harp in English, although it’s also known as a mouth harp.

These instruments are found all over the world. Usually they feature a flexible tongue made from bamboo or metal, attached to a frame. The mouth, teeth and tongue of the player change the volume and pitch to produce the most fantastic “boing” sounds you’ll hear today. Skip to around 8.55 of this TED talk to hear it for yourself.

Number one

Flying into first place is Squeaky Bird (not its official name), a beautiful little toy from India.

We were all enchanted by the sound she makes – somewhere between a squeak, a hoot and a wheeze.

The noise is produced when the tongs at the back are squeezed. This causes the bellows under her wings to fill with air, and the wind to rush through little holes in the metalwork.

Ingenious toys made from recycled materials like this are a fixture of the handling collection.

Keep your eyes peeled for them next time you visit!


So, that concludes our Top 5 Curiosity New Year Countdown. Since they have all had a nice clean – why not swing by the Hands on Base and discover your own favourites?

What is important to you?

At the Horniman there are several ways to interact with our collections and exhibits. We asked visitors what objects were important to their lives and what plants would think of humans.

We asked visitors what they thought was important to them. Some people drew special gifts given to them and others drew family members and objects from the museum.

One visitor said that their items gain more sentiment with experience and some are important because of where they came from.

They listed:

  • Old hiking boots
  • A violin played for 22 years 
  • A pair of trousers that are always worn
  • Their grandma’s wallet
  • A hat from a sporting event.
  • A good luck note from a friend.

Another visitor drew their teddy bear necklace from Grandma Phyllis

For thousands of years, people have tied scraps of fabric to trees that grow near sacred wells or springs. In the British Isles, they are sometimes called cloutie wells. Each piece of fabric is a wish for well-being or says thank you for something good that has happened. In the World Gallery, we have a cloutie tree for visitors to write their thoughts.

Here are a few thoughts some of our visitors left on the tree.

Hanifa asked for a comfy husky dog.

Another visitor was thankful for their body that allows them to run.

When you visit the World Gallery, be sure to leave your wishes and thoughts on our cloutie tree.

The Lore of the Land exhibition by Serena Korda and the Collective asks us to question our relationship with our natural environment. We asked visitors what they thought plants would think of us.

Ellie wrote a poem titled Beautiful, over-complicated Messes

If plants could see

I feel you would agree

They say we’d miss the point entirely.

If we were they

And they were we

It won’t seem such a mystery.

Slow down, be present, enjoy now.

Amelia wrote:

Plants would think we are unique and special because we’re not like them. We don’t have stems or petals.

I don’t think they would be happy whilst we’d be taking up the spotlight and they would look up at us.

Be sure to keep sharing your thoughts with us or tag #Horniman to share your images.

The Movement of People

Rachael Minott, the Horniman's Anthropology Curator (Social Practice), writes about migration and how the movement of people is represented in the World Gallery.

Our world is the way it is today because of the movement of people.

Last week on 10 December, the first international pact on the movement of people was signed by 164 members of the UN to try to encourage safe and legal border crossing, and find an alternative to children’s detention centres for illegal immigrants.

The history of migration is as old as time. Land occupied today is occupied because people moved there, nations emerged, grew and developed. Most major faiths have a grounding in the survival of the mass movement of people, and many families will have stories of migration that brought us, or our ancestors, together.

Whether through forced migration or by choice, migrants and international migration, have changed the world.

The World Gallery at the Horniman is a celebration of the variety and beauty of world cultures. While it celebrates cultural difference, it also aims to understand the common threads of humanity that are shared globally.

The exhibition text panels state that travel, trade and interest in other cultures have always influenced European cultures. And yet, while this interest celebrates the diversity of Europe today, the violence of that exchange is also acknowledged.

Geographic regions are introduced with an acknowledgement of the impact of European colonialism. The Gallery holds memorials created for the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, in 2007.

This migration - not of choice nor hope, is not to be celebrated, but remembered. The survival of this migration, a testament to strength and resilience.

The World Gallery also explores non-European exploration, through the voyaging history of the Oceania region. Advocates for the term Oceania Pacific Islands, like Epeli Hau’ofa, describe the region as a sea of islands, in which the water is as much the territory as the land. This highlights that the sea both connects and separates approximately 40 million people.

Living with the sea as a territory, movement between islands was as natural as travelling along a road, and so migration, voyaging and exploration were a natural part of the regions culture.

[Fun fact: did you know that Madagascar was only settled about 1000 years ago? Many of the Malagasy are of Polynesian descent, sharing linguistic and cultural characteristics of southern Borneo, 7,000km away. This led many to assume that it was first settled by oceanic voyagers despite being a part of the African continent]. 

In the section of the Gallery dedicated to Asia, you will see a celebration of Nomadic peoples in Tibet, who today embrace the same nomadic lifestyle practiced for thousands of years in that region.

Exploring the constant migration and movement of peoples, this display showcases the importance of smart phones as a part of nomadic existence, showing them alongside essential material culture that dates back over 400 years.

  • Installing the Bedouin camel furniture, Phil from our Exhibitions Team, installing camel furniture in the Tuareg section of the World Gallery. The Tuareg are a nomadic people., Tania Dolvers
    Phil from our Exhibitions Team, installing camel furniture in the Tuareg section of the World Gallery. The Tuareg are a nomadic people., Tania Dolvers

There is much that can be said about physical movement, but a retention of culture that will ring true to many migrants who live in a diaspora – when a group of people spread from one country to other countries – connect to their home through people and practices, like food, dance, faith etc.

And while migration has had undoubtedly positive effects, there is a lot of trauma associated with its process. It can be a difficult decision, disrupting connections to place, space and families. But there is hope in migration, hope that you move to something new and worthwhile, that will make your life better.

  • Boat 195, The prow of boat 195, Dani Tegan
    The prow of boat 195, Dani Tegan

The World Gallery also talks of forced migration. You can see in the European area, a piece of Boat 195 which set off from Libya in 2013 carrying 253 people. Those on board Boat 195 were rescued near the coat of Sicily on 17 August 2013.

Its presence in the Gallery reminds us that forced migration is a perennial issue, with lives risked daily with the hope that the journey will be worthwhile; will eventually bring a safety not possible in the lands left behind.

Exploring (Ancient) Egypt

Lucy Maycock, Schools Learning Officer, tells us how exploring archaeological sites led to the reimagining of the Ancient Egypt workshop.

Over summer, I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Egypt and spent a fortnight exploring both famous and lesser-known archaeological sites. Like many, I have always been fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians and was completely astonished by the wealth of ancient temples, tombs, and complexes open to tourists.

As a Schools Learning Officer, I spend most of my time using our Handling Collection to teach visiting school groups about a wide range of topics. One of our most popular workshops is ‘Ancient Egypt’, in which pupils handle real Ancient Egyptian objects. Despite its popularity, the session had remained largely unchanged for many years so, inspired by my visit, we decided it was time for a revamp.

Egyptologist Samir Abbass, my tour guide and owner of Real Egypt, kindly examined photographs of our handling objects and was able to provide us with more information about them: giving us a better idea of the people who may have used them; clarifying how they were used; and was even able to translate hieroglyphics for us.

With this in-depth knowledge, we were able to create a schools session that gives pupils the chance to actively examine objects, working in teams to solve questions about the former use and meaning of one or two artefacts. The teams then join together and have the opportunity to share their conclusions, using their objects and findings to safely send someone to the Afterlife.

It’s lovely to see the enthusiasm that the new session inspires in pupils. Objects are now hidden in boxes which the children unpack, creating a real sense of curiosity and awe. It brings a new found focus that was sometimes missing from the old version of the workshop.

We’ve had brilliant feedback from teachers and pupils about the new format. One teacher commented that "the session is so much more exciting for the children, it’s really involved and it helps them to make sense of the objects." We love teaching it too, and hope to inspire some archaeologists of the future!

We’re now looking at some of our other long-standing, popular sessions and thinking about how we can encourage pupils to investigate and explore objects in a similarly active and thoughtful way. Watch this space!

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