Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Nothing beats the real thing

A very grey and rainy Easter resulted with a visit to the New Walk Museum in Leicester in order to take our son somewhere indoors where he could run around in an environment more interesting and inspiring than the nearest shopping centre. Apart from the usual displays the museum had two special exhibitions that made me think. Actually there are more special exhibitions on than these two but they are the ones that made me consider deeper questions. The first exhibition is the touring Hallaton treasure exhibition and the second a Gujarati Dress The World: Suits and Saris. I have mentioned the Hallaton treasure in my blog before and later made a brief comment on the arrival of the restored Roman helmet to the Market Harborough museum in my other weekly blog. Due to the number of local Leicestershire events related to this treasure it is likely that Hallaton is to feature in this blogs in the future as well.

One of the information banners

The touring Hallaton exhibition was very bijou but it covered the essentials about the find. However, most of the exhibits were copies and at least for me thus they were a let-down – especially since I have visited the Market Harborough museum and seen the real ones. There is something appealing and alluring in the real objects that show signs of degradation and corrosion but have been preserved for the future generations. The small collection of original Iron Age and Roman coins were the centre piece of the exhibition and at least a professional could feel the charm of the original. Naturally, the display also had ‘shiny, precious’ objects so the primeval greed probably rose its head inside me when I saw them.

It is not that there was anything wrong with the reproductions. They were very good and an exceptionally good way to share this nationally important discovery with a wider audience than the one that can visit the local museum. In addition, the replica of the Roman helmet the visitors could try on was a real hit with the younger visitors. Even if it was heavy, I could not resist trying it on on my son.

Leicester as a truly multicultural town managed to present the different strands of its history at the same time in the museum. On one hand there was the exhibition on the distant Roman past shared with the continent and on the other a display of the shared modern history with the Asian subcontinent. I have previously been unsure how the city’s inhabitants of Gujarati origin feel about the attempts of inclusion and diversity by the Museum services but the Suits and Saris exhibition is one example that they are doing something right. I saw more visitors with saris than ever before in the museum and some of the fashion was truly dashing. The exhibition had a lot of Indian and Indian-inspired clothing to be tried on in a series of special changing booths so it was truly interactive. I am not convinced that the youngsters of Indian origin necessarily are interested in the original clothing from Gujarat collected in the 1980s when this museum’s collecting of Gujarati clothing begun with the sincere hope to introduce the youth of Gujarati origin their culture in the land of their forefathers. Nevertheless, the young gentlemen and misses can be assumed to be fashion-conscious and enjoy the fusion clothing on display. In this latter case it may be that the old original is not as appealing for the intended audience as in the Hallaton case. However, as a crowd pleaser it is effective.

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