Student Work Placement: The Keep Archive

MA Curating Collections and Heritage student Emily Warwick tells us about her current placement at the Mass Observation archive at the Keep in Brighton.

As part of my Professional Placements in Collections and Heritage module on the MA Curating Collections and Heritage, in semester two I was given the opportunity to volunteer for 150 hours. As I was applying to roles, I knew that a placement in archives was a pathway I was eager to pursue and gain valuable experience in. As a result, I was fortunate to secure a placement within The Mass Observation team, based at The Keep Archives in Falmer.

My role within this professional placement has varied quite a lot and as a result has provided me me first-hand experience of what it is like to work within an archive which is so focused on the benefits of community engagement. The Mass Observation programme was founded in 1937 by Tom Harrison, Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings with the idea of recording and preserving the lives and thoughts of ordinary, everyday people across Britain. The original work continued until the early 1950s, until the project was revived in 1981. Today, there is a contemporary writing panel which is made up of writers from across the UK who answer questions presented to them in the form of seasonal directives. Questions range quite substantially, and written directives have included themes such as Currency (Summer 1981), You & The NHS (Spring 1997), Travelling (Spring 2000) and Climate change (Summer 2011).

Alongside the directives, the 12th May project allows anyone from around the UK to submit a day diary of everything they did in the morning to when they went to bed at night on this day. As a part of the project this year I attended an open day at Downs Jr School in Hove organised by ‘Take Shelter’, an organisation that have restored the WWII air raid shelter on the school’s grounds, and open it to the public, including as part of the Brighton Fringe festival. The Mass Observation team and I handed out diary pages to members of the public to fill in and send back to the archive, writing everything they got up to at the air raid shelter. It was really interesting to see what people were excited to write about as many people were surprised that their narratives would be included within a public archive. In preparation for the event I gathered examples from within the collection and this ranged from school groups, community groups as well as entries from prisons. In recent weeks, I have been able to catalogue some of this material as well as new entries which have been received via both post and email to the archive. Moreover, as part of the 12th May diary event I ran my own diary workshop with my Girlguiding Brownie pack which I regularly volunteer with. At the event we decorated our own sticker diaries as well as writing about everything we did on 12th May. We made the diaries as colourful as we could, with some girls opting to do theirs in the form of drawing and colouring alongside some writing.

Image showing the Mass Observation stall at Take Shelter

Image showing the Mass Observation stall at Take Shelter

As a part of this placement, I have also had the chance to transcribe some of the Covid 19 collection from 2020. These stories provide an emotive insight into the thoughts and feelings of people nationally during the difficult lockdown period. As a major event, the opinions of writers vary quite a lot as some people had entirely different experiences to others. Ultimately, transcribing and digitising these collections allows more people to read the directives without necessarily needing to visit the physical archive, which is much more accessible for many people, and this is why it is such important work to do.

Overall, I would highly recommend the placement module to anyone wishing to pursue a career in archives and museums as the experience I have gained is invaluable. The team at Mass Observation have been so welcoming and supportive throughout my time with them. They have really opened my eyes to the significance of community engagement within archives and the importance of using the materials we have to facilitate learning. I know that the experience this opportunity has given me will aid me in my career going forward.

Student Work Placement: Zenzie Tinker Conservation

MA Curating Collections and Heritage student Glenda Harris tells us about her current placement with leading textile conservation studio, Zenzie Tinker Conservation

As part of the MA Curating Collections and Heritage Course I had the opportunity to take the Professional Placements in Collections module. I was thrilled to secure a placement at Zenzie Tinker Conservation, a world-renowned textile conservation studio based  in Brighton. I knew I wanted to gain some hands-on experience in a conservation studio as this will help me gain valuable experience and compliment my academic studies. I am also keen to gain a better understanding of the work involved in displaying historic textiles. During the 150 hours of my placement, I have been able to assist with various projects, from condition checking new acquisitions, to helping with mounting uniforms for the National Trust. I have been able to work independently on object research and as part of the team on other projects. I have learned about and made various mounts for historic clothing and have been responsible for creating bespoke heads for mannequins, which involved everything from creating the pattern to sewing and finishing.

The 1920’s cloche, prior to Glenda’s conservation work

I started my placement by researching Zenzie Tinker’s hat collection. This varied collection includes men’s and women’s headwear, mainly from the first half of the twentieth century. During this research I was drawn to a somewhat unusual 1920s cloche. Considering its age, this hat is in good condition, however, it has no maker’s or retailer’s labels. The hat is a rich dark brown and made of felt and flock with a decorative godet in the centre front. It features a metallic hatband that is showing signs of tarnish. The crown is horizontally divided by an uneven join between the two fabrics, and this seam is partially concealed with applique flowers made of circles of felt and what appears to be mercerised thread formed into flower shapes. The hat is highly decorated with embroidery, and the crown is covered with quilting stitches in metallic thread. The brim that tapers towards the back is somewhat uneven, which could be due to wear, poor storage or the original cutting. Internally, the headband has been cut to allow for the godet but has not been finished, allowing it to fray. It also has an unevenly stitched centre-back seem, which suggests that it may have been modified by a previous owner. The idea of modification is supported by other evidence, such as large, uneven stitches visible at the centre back.

The various stages in Glenda’s mount making process

Brenda’s expert finished cloche support

 

I felt that this hat would benefit from a storage mount and asked Zenzie if it was possible to try making one. I found this a very enjoyable task. I started by making a practice from blotting paper that  I hoped could later be used as a template. This was then covered in polyester wadding which could be built up in layers to create the domed top for the crown. I then fashioned a support for the brim. Once happy with the shape and fit,  I made the final piece from acid-free card and Tyvek tape and was able to reuse the padding from the practice. My first instinct was to use cotton jersey for the covering, but this proved unsuccessful as the folds of excess fabric increased the size significantly. I decided to make a fitted cover from down-free cotton instead. This smoother fabric worked much better, and the hat could slide comfortably over it. I covered the rim with silk in a complementary colour before stitching the rim and crown pieces together. Finally, I made a lining from card to hold everything in place and covered the underside of the rim in more silk. I am happy with the support my mount provides for the hat. However, if I were to repeat the exercise, I would make the rim slightly wider to accommodate the uneven brim. I intend to make a box for the hat for ease of storage.

A well supported hat!

I have since been able to gain further mount-making experience by creating mounts for a pair of embroidered slippers. These slippers have a needlepoint embroidery upper featuring a fox design. The intention is to create an embroidery pattern and produce ‘make your own’ kits inspired by them for the online shop. I am thoroughly enjoying my work placement; I have had the opportunity to work alongside skilled professionals who share their knowledge and encourage me at every stage. This experience has ignited and interest in mount-making which I intend to pursue, and I am certain the experience gained here will be beneficial in the future.

MA Curating Alumna Grace Redpath reflects on her role as Learning Manager promoting the history of the ironstone industry on the North East Coast

Grace Redpath is Learning Manager at Land of Iron in East Cleveland, and also a graduate of the Curating Collections and Heritage master’s programme. In this blog post, she reflects on her current professional priorities, and how the discussions and texts she encountered on the MA Curating helped sharpen her aims for the sector.

At present, I am the Learning Manager at Land of Iron. An independent museum located in the seaside Village of Skinningrove, East Cleveland, UK, we act to preserve and promote the history of the ironstone industry that once made this region the heart of steel production on the North East coast.

In the three years since graduating, my work has primarily focused on industrial heritage. Industrial heritage is unapologetically working class with intangible aspects that feed their way into all sorts of areas of everyday life. It is political and holds so much pride. Yet, at the same time, at a surface level, it is incredibly masculine, with a very fixed audience/user base.

As Learning Manager I use the theoretical and ethical debates learnt whilst studying MA Curating Collections and Heritage to think critically about the topic of heritage and challenge traditional narratives of museology. Needless to say, I think about Tony Bennett’s classic text on The Birth of the Museum on a daily basis, putting his work on power and hierarchy in museums into conversation with my interest in including those who are all too often excluded from traditional historical narratives and those who don’t necessarily engage with heritage.

A trip to see the exhibition Forever Amber at the Laing in Newcastle was the catalyst for me undertaking postgraduate study. A retrospective of the work of the city’s Amber Collective, these photographs were a snapshot of a bygone era in the North East. Capturing the period during, and Post industrialisation, the gallery’s walls felt tender with the images of people and places that wouldn’t usually be displayed in such a space. Traditionally adorned with 18th and 19th century oil paintings, the representation felt like a light relief. It got me thinking, maybe these documents could be capital H History too?

In East Cleveland, very little tangible evidence of ironstone mining and steel production remains. A highly divisive topic, the overnight demolition of the Dorman Long Tower and subsequent demolition of Redcar Blast Furnace has led to a collective amnesia about the region’s not too distant past. However, sitting on the site of the former Loftus Ironstone mine (and the first in East Cleveland), Land of Iron’s team of dedicated volunteers and 6 paid members of staff, welcome visitors all year long. Although extraction of Ironstone ended at Loftus mine in 1958, the museum is still classed an Active Mine, with visitors being given a tour of the mines’ ventilation shaft and haulage drift entrance. They can also view our permanent exhibition space about life in the Iron Valley, and temporary exhibition in the Tom Leonard Gallery, which is at present, is displaying previously unseen images by Graham Smith and former Amber Collective member Chris Killip’s Skinningrove series. 

My work primarily involves working with school groups, with our most popular workshop offer being the Ironstone Mining Experience. Teaching young children about the history of their area is rewarding, as local history is a key part of the Primary curriculum, but I am keen to use the collections to maintain relevance with young audiences in an economically deprived area. My most recent ventures have seen me explore STEM opportunities by becoming a STEM Ambassador, and embarking on a fledgling Folk Dance Education programme with the assistance of a donation of Longswords from the English Folk Dance and Song Society, which shall see the intangible dance, once performed by Ironstone miners, revised in the area. I am also keen to have more young people join our board of trustees so the board seeks to serve a broader range of the museums stakeholders.

Reflecting Back, Moving Forward: A brief tale of attaining PhD funding

Lisa Hinkins is a graduate of our BA History of Art and Design and MA Curating Collections and Heritage programmes. She was recently awarded prestigious AHRC Techne funding for a new PhD to be entitled, Where are all the Lesbians? In search of Lesbian Lives in Museums. In this blog post, Lisa reflects on her time at the University of Brighton so far.

It is a privilege to announce my new PhD project. I was asked to write on how it was built on my time at the University of Brighton (UoB) as an undergraduate and graduate student. So, I am in a reflective, sentimental mood. Where do I start?

I just re-read my first HOAD blog, published in March 2016 describing my very first enriching experiences after signing up with UoB’s Active Student Volunteering Service. It catapulted me back to September 2015, a very nervous 43-year-old who after 23 years had left a life of work to return to university. Yes, it wasn’t my first rodeo – I had dropped out of a Graphic Design degree in the early 1990s at Portsmouth after six months. As I walked through the UoB doors though, I knew this was my second chance to steer my own career path. I had to fight my inner fears and draw on all my past experiences to help me make the most of this opportunity.

I actually got through my first year with pretty good grades and I made some friends. I also got my very first paying role in the Museum Sector as a Gallery Explainer with Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust (RPMT). I attended life-drawing sessions and volunteered at Fabrica, a local contemporary art gallery, while also volunteering with Photoworks, a leading platform for photographers. These wonderful opportunities were made available due to the professional and nurturing staff off the University of Brighton. They helped open my eyes to new prospects, widening my networks and developing my potential.

During the last two years my of undergraduate degree, the module programmes allowed me freedom to pursue areas of art and design relating to the LGBTQ+ community and Roma Gypsy history. Weaved with internal work development placements with World Art at RPMT, I gained a wealth of skills and knowledge, giving me more confidence to develop my own research paths.

In 2018 I was part of the inaugural cohort for the MA Curating Collections and Heritage led by Dr Claire Wintle. This innovative Masters combines academic study with vocational professional development. We received insightful seminars from a variety of professionals within the Museum sector, alongside hands on sessions with staff from RPMT.

The decision to study for my MA part-time enabled me have time to continue volunteering with Fabrica and Photoworks, as well as paid work with RPMT. I was able to attend the Gayness in Queer Times Conference held at UoB in the summer of 2019, participating as a speaker on lesbian representation in museums. It also meant I could volunteer as a community co-curator for Queer the Pier exhibition currently on display at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

Gayness in Queer Times Conference Summer 2019

This was an incredible experience where I could use my skills to create displays about historic lesbians with connections to Brighton. Using the prism of a pier volunteers from the local LGBTQ+ community created a unique exhibition telling stories of queerness in the city. While carrying out research it came apparent that there was a paucity of original material objects representing lesbian lives. One such woman was Brighton born Harriet Elphinstone-Dick, who achieved one of the greatest swimming feats in 1875. She swam in rough water from Shoreham Harbour to the West Pier in 2 hours and 43 minutes. To illustrate her story of defying Victorian societal expectations as a lesbian woman, I created a design for an automaton machine inspired by the Palace Pier’s dolphin racing game.

Harriet Elphinstone-Dick automaton in Queer the Pier exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

I also collaborated with internationally acclaimed Roma artist Delaine Le Bas, academic Dr Lucie Fremlova and LGBQT+ Roma artists in re-claiming the problematic ‘Gipsy’ Fortune Telling Machine held in RMPT’s collection. In an act of Queer decolonisation, we created a display in Queer the Pier that dispensed beautifully designed fortune telling cards by Delaine, alongside a text panel featuring a photograph by the Roma artists working with Lucie. I also edited a takeaway Zine to accompany the display which included personal stories and further photography by the artists.

My work with this team and my innovative automaton led to one of the most exciting prospects in my professional career. I was approached by UoB to develop a PhD proposal…., then the Covid pandemic hit us all.

Strangely or not, I thrived through the ups and downs of that period. I completed my MA dissertation, further developed my own artistic practice, delivered 23 weeks of Zoom Family Pub Quizzes, and partook in two on-line Free University Brighton (FUB) courses. In between this I worked on many drafts of my PhD proposal with support from UoB lecturers.

From 2021 I have guest lectured for the BA(Hons) History of Art and Visual Culture on Brighton LGBTQ+ Cultural History for first year students. The three-hour sessions have incorporated field trips to The Ledward Centre, The Old Police Cells Museum and the Queer the Pier exhibition.

My lecturing work, volunteering and work experience led to another gain another paid role with RPMT as a Museum Educator, which I carry out in conjunction with my roles as a Visitor Services Officer and Gallery Explainer. I also had an invaluable experience as an Archive Assistant working with Rachel Ng, a fellow alumni, on the Chelsea School of Physical Education Archive for the UoB School of Sports and Health Science.

working for the Goal Power! Women’s Football 1894-2022 exhibition held at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery Summer 2022. I am dressed in the dark blue as Victorian footballer Nettie Honeyball in my role as a Museum Educator.

The combination of academic study, paid roles and volunteering built a strong CV for enhancing my application for AHRC Techne funding. It has taken a few years, but with an amazing university team backing me and support from RPMT, I was awarded Collaborative Doctoral AHRC Techne funding in April. From October I shall be moving forward with this exciting project with the University of Brighton and Royal Pavilion & Museum Trust. The project: Where are all the Lesbians? In search of Lesbian Lives in Museums will investigate how RPMT represents lesbian historic lives and identities. It will unpack relations between heteronormative patriarchal histories and museums allowing scholars, professionals, and communities to challenge established social constructs.

I am very excited for this project and cannot wait to start working with my university supervisors.

There are so many people that I am indebted to – RPMT’s Executive Board along with the UoB Doctoral College. My heartfelt thanks go to the UoB School of Humanities and Social Science lecturers who have not only guided me through the PhD application process but supported me from the moment I stepped through these university doors as an undergraduate.

MA Curating Alumna Jenny Mearns shares her new role in museum marketing

Jenny Mearns is Marketing & Membership Officer at The Salisbury Museum and also a graduate of the Curating Collections and Heritage master’s programme. In this blog post, she reflects on her career so far, and how the MA Curating informed her practice and helped her develop her confidence

I enrolled on the MA Curating, Collections and Heritage course in September 2020, after spending time volunteering with the National Trust as an archive assistant, which ignited my interest in working with collections within the museum and heritage sector. My previous roles were varied (visual merchandising, freelance writing, and running my own small fashion label) yet consistently enabled me to utilise my creative and curious nature!

Fashioning our World Exhibition, The Sailsbury Museum

 

As part of the MA course, in April 2022 I commenced on a three-month work placement at The Salisbury Museum, as project assistant on the Fashioning Our World project. This primarily involved investigating the fashion collection at the museum, seeking evidence of historical sustainable fashion practices (mends, repairs, repurposing, alteration). I found this role enormously rewarding, leading me to continue at the museum upon completion of my placement as volunteer project assistant on Fashioning Our World.

A fragment of a wedding dress showing evidence of historical sustainable fashion practices, discovered on Jenny’s work placement

In November 2023, a full-time role became available at The Salisbury Museum, so of course I jumped at the chance of applying, resulting in me being offered the role of Marketing and Membership Officer.

In this role, I am responsible for developing all marketing assets, from press releases, social media campaigns, liaising with local and national media, to designing, creating, and sending out monthly newsletters. I also look after existing museum members, recruit new members, and process monthly membership renewals.

Fortuitously, Fashioning Our World was the first exhibition I was responsible for marketing, which I found hugely rewarding, securing features in national press including the BBC, The Telegraph and The Times.

Further, alongside my role at the museum, I am committed to exploring my research interests, which amongst other avenues include dichotomies between display and storage within fashion collections in museums, and emotional attachment and clothing.

As such, I currently have some of my research undergoing peer review for publication, and, at the end of the month I will be presenting my paper – Diversifying Stories Through the Curation of the Fashioning Our World Project & Exhibition at The Salisbury Museum at the Beyond the Blockbuster: Exhibiting Fashion Now conference at Museum of London Docklands and London College of Fashion.

My time at the University of Brighton enabled me to engage with critical thinking giving me the opportunity to develop my research interests, with amazing support from my tutors. The course was undoubtedly instrumental in enabling me to move forwards, progressing in my chosen career path within the museum sector. My studies also helped to give me confidence in myself and my abilities, enabling me to grow not only professionally, but also to develop as an individual.

 

MA Curating Alumna Jen Grasso reflects on her career working with archives

Jen Grasso is the Digital Content and Systems Co-Ordinator at the University of Brighton Design Archives and is also a graduate of the Curating Collections and Heritage master’s programme. In this blog post, she reflects on her career so far, and how the MA Curating informed her practice as a researcher and archives practitioner.

With a practice-based background in photography and over 10 years working in administration and recordkeeping, I enrolled in the MA Curating, Collections and Heritage programme in 2019 to see how I could apply my passion for the arts, culture and heritage with my accrued professional experience. I was interested in the theory and practice that founded modern-day collections and how heritage and culture was developed and supported in the UK. During my course I quickly became passionate about working with archives, an area I was lucky to explore during my student placement assessing the archive of photography non-profit organisation Photoworks.

My placement was unfortunately cut short because of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, but I continued to build on my passion for archives. I volunteered at the University of Sussex Special Collections on the National Heritage Lottery Funded-project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) that digitized sound recordings for the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue (SAMI).  My main task was to listen to oral histories to flag sensitivity issues and create a summary for the catalogue. I listened to members of the Windrush generation talk about their first impressions of the UK; people’s experiences living through the Blitz; the recipients of the first social housing development in Southhampton, as well as different union members talk about the effects of industrial action. It was here I gained an appreciation for oral histories and how they can be used to document different communities.

Inspired by the UOSH project and the dissertation research I undertook during my master’s degree, which focused on polyvocal narratives and how they are expressed through photography, I began a community archive project documenting the role of the photobooth technician. This was also inspired by the postgraduate course in Archival Studies at the University of Dundee which I enrolled in following my master’s at Brighton. A technician myself since 2015, the Photobooth Technicians Project is an ongoing project that documents the history of the profession since its inception in 1925, in particular, the grassroots community that has arisen throughout the 21st century. It consists of semi-structured oral and written interviews combined with test strips from each technician, which is the main way to assess the status of one’s photobooth. I’m lucky to be able to share this project at the upcoming Photographic History Research Centre’s Annual Conference, The Photographer’s Assistants, at DeMontfort University in June.

In 2022, I was hired as the Digital Content and Systems Co-Ordinator at the University of Brighton Design Archives. My work and research in the Design Archives focuses on the intersection between analogue and digital technologies and how technology can be used to democratize heritage. Part of this research involves an ongoing project working with Dr Karina Rodriguez Echavarria and colleagues in the School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering looking at how Machine Learning and AI can make collections more accessible.

Detail of the results of Santander-funded student placement applying machine learning to the discovery of the Design Archive’s collections. Original image © Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

I am also responsible for the digital generation, dissemination, and preservation of records at the Design Archives, and am part of a team that cares for, and makes accessible, records relating to graphic and industrial design from the mid-20th century, a wonderful resource I’m incredibly fortunate to work with. This role allows me to do what I’m passionate about, working directly with collections helping make them accessible, and also brings me back to the University of Brighton, a community that inspired me throughout my master’s degree and one I am now proud to be part of.

Opulence to Ashes: An exploration into the gendered marketing of the tobacco industry

Alicia Curran, Deale Fisher, Eden Parsley and Scarlett Swinnerton have curated an exhibition reflecting on the relationship between gender identity and the marketing of tobacco in their second-year project for the BA History of Art and Design module  ‘Understanding Exhibitions and Creating Displays’.

Opulence to Ashes is an exhibition, recently curated using archived materials from the University of Brighton’s Design Archives, now open in the foyer of St Peter’s House Library. This exhibition delves into the intriguing topic of gendered marketing within the tobacco industry and explores how marketing strategies have targeted specific gender identities and influenced consumer behaviour. Opulence to Ashes examines the utilisation of imagery, colours, and messaging that have traditionally reinforced gender stereotypes. By analysing these aspects, the exhibition prompts visitors to question the underlying messages and consider the broader implications.

The focus of this exhibition is on examining the ways in which the tobacco industry has targeted specific gender identities through their marketing strategies. Delving into the use of imagery, colours, and messaging that have traditionally reinforced gender stereotypes and influenced consumer behaviour. It looks at how cigarettes were initially marketed as symbols of masculinity, often with rugged cowboys and suave gentlemen being used to promote various brands. On the other hand, certain cigarette brands were specifically targeted towards women, employing feminine aesthetics and associations with elegance and sophistication. Opulence to Ashes brings you their own discovered cigarette brand: High Kings.

Seen below is an image of two reconstructed High Kings cigarette packages alongside the gender strategised, and targeted, design brief. The team chose the Olive Green packaging as in the brief this colour is explained as targeted at females and the Opulence to Ashes team want to allow the chance for any attendees to this exhibition to refer to this in the feedback. Boxes of this particular branded cigarette were also enhanced to appear either lighter in colour or more golden than those targeted at men.

As the exhibition progresses, it highlights the impact of gendered marketing on individuals and society. It examines the ways in which these marketing tactics have reinforced harmful gender norms and perpetuated inequality. As well as offering insight through the dissection of advertisement and promotional materials, present amongst the exhibition materials is the High Kings design brief that associates colours with certain age groups and genders. When creating this exhibition, with a target audience of university students and academic professionals in mind, the Opulence to Ashes team approached the advertisement of this exhibition with huge creative intention.

Seen below is a poster created by the team to advertise the exhibition. The playful use of a propaganda style poster is an effective strategy being used here when considered alongside the fact that there is a high likeliness that members of the target audience will be provoked by the look of the poster furthermore intrigued.

 

Looking at the intended audience and recognising that the ages of many people attending our exhibition would be anywhere from 18 to mid-late twenties, we understood that social media would be one of the most useful tools in advertising our exhibition as well as building our brand aesthetic and continuity to the exhibition pieces. Instagram being our chosen form of representation and advertising for the exhibition allowed for the aesthetic of Opulence to Ashes to be appointed prior to the exhibition.

Something Old, Something New: The Influence of the White Wedding in Popular Culture

Emily Hetherington, Neve Lloyd Owen, Maizie Hegarty-Woods Alexandra Laveglia and Maddison Brathwaite – Richards review the significance of the wedding dress in their second-year exhibition project for the BA History of Art and Design module  ‘Understanding Exhibitions and Creating Displays’.

‘Something Old and Something New’, Exhibition View, 2023

Something Old and Something New is a new exhibition looking at wedding traditions through different pop culture moments and how people have gone against them. What is thought as one of the oldest wedding traditions, the white wedding dress, popularised by Queen Victoria, was promoted through media and magazines that made people believe that wedding dresses were always white. For many, white wedding dresses show a fairy tale ending for them, not unlike the ones seen in Disney’s Cinderella. For some Christians a white wedding dress shows the end of innocence and purity of a child into adulthood as a stepping into a new stage of life. In the Global North the white wedding dresses is so integral to our image of weddings that it has bled into the Global South, with many people opting to having a white dress in some capacity alongside their own traditions. One of the many ways the tradition has leaked into different cultures is through televised royal weddings, such as the 1981 marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, watched by 750 million people in 74 countries, which was a major pop culture moment of the 1980s. So, the exhibition here starts with a wedding dress from 1984 designed by Patricia Miller that is stylistically inspired by Diana’s own wedding dress, from the University’s own teaching dress collection. This dress is our launching point for looking at how bridal traditions are upheld, subverted or broken within Western pop culture.

Installing a wedding dress (1984) from the University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection

The rhyme that gives the name of the exhibition comes from “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” links to wedding traditions. The rhyme dates to about to the 19th century in the British Ilses and has been part of weddings for almost the same amount of time, as it is said to help the wedding go smoothly for the bride. Many pop culture weddings follow this tradition but many don’t. An example of a wedding not following the normal traditions was Bianca and Mick Jagger’s weddings in 1971. Bianca Jagger wore trousers to this wedding which broke standards of what we saw with celebrity weddings and since then there have been examples of women opting for trousers as their bridal dress, especially with the rise of LGBTQIA+ weddings. In this way we can see how something new can become something old in a short amount of time.

Display case, ‘Something Old and Something New’

Ultimately, through this new exhibition we want people leave with an understanding of how tradition is invented, through examining weddings. As the British social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey writes, tradition is seen through nostalgia, something that we need to maintain, or it will be lost. White weddings and all we expect from them comes from our understanding of what we have seen whether that be from pop culture or from our personal experiences of weddings, ideas that can hopefully be seen in this new display on the second floor of Mithras House, next to the Hellerup stairs.

Curated by Emily Hetherington, Neve Lloyd Owen, Maizie Hegarty-Woods Alexandra Laveglia and Maddison Brathwaite – Richards.

Reorienting the Orient

Annie Wright, Grace Dowle, Megan Glass, Avery Chamberlain and Eden Cronin have curated an exhibition reflecting on the connection between objects associated with the idea of ‘the Orient’ and the social construction of cultural difference within British society in their second-year project for the BA History of Art and Design module  ‘Understanding Exhibitions and Creating Displays’.

Reorienting the Orient: Upcycling as a Cross Cultural Practice, Mithras House, 6th Dec 2023

Reorienting the Orient is an exhibition that aims to explore the narratives and aims of cross-cultural consumption and the repurposing of cultural garments for alternative uses in the west. Ideas surrounding where these garments were intended to be worn are contrasted between systems of international export and local trading, which allows for an interesting comparison in the usage of oriental clothing in Britain.

Orientalism, a term coined by Edward W. Said, describes the western construction of ‘the Orient’ as a place of mysticism and exoticism and reflects Britain’s imperial relations with Asia. Britain’s connections to the Orient have influenced popular fashion trends in many ways through the years. Reorienting the Orient documents multiple examples of the dissemination of imported Oriental goods into British society, whilst also providing context behind specific examples.

The exhibition features two main pieces, selected from the Dress History Teaching Collection. The first, a skirt most likely handcrafted by the Rabari, a nomadic tribe indigenous to the Kutch district of Northern India. Despite initially being thought to be from the Rajasthan state of India, research suggests the bright embroidered motifs of peacocks and mango trees to be that of Rabari craft. This skirt would have been created for local consumption within the Kutch district, but was brought to Brighton by John Gillow amidst the British fascination with Indian culture during the 1960’s.

Reorienting the Orient: Upcycling as a Cross Cultural Practice, Mithras House, 6th Dec 2023

The second garment from the same collection is a Cantonese shawl, dating anywhere from the late 19th to early 20th century. Also being known as ‘Manila Shawls’ and ‘Manton de Manila’, these fabrics were most often made of silk and featured the Yue embroidery that is native to the Canton region. Patterns on these shawls often include scenes from nature and mythical creatures. This specific example features embroidered motifs of foliage on cream silk, with a border of fringe encasing the design. In contrast to the Rabari skirt, these Cantonese shawls would have been made specifically for western use. The consumption of these garments in Europe would ultimately lead to the commissioning of western cultural emblems to be embroidered on them, and the chartering of trade companies designed to import these products to various European nations.

Reorienting the Orient: Upcycling as a Cross Cultural Practice, Mithras House, 6th Dec 2023

Although both of these pieces show the significance of orientalist clothing in Britain in both the 19th and 20th centuries, ‘Reorienting the Orient’ also displays evidence of orientalism as an ongoing practice. This is shown through the exhibiting of two recent examples, purchased by the curators locally, in the Brighton lanes. Displayed on a mannequin alongside the Rabari skirt is a long sleeve cropped blouse in a rich maroon colour. The pattern featured on the garment shows clear inspiration from South Asian clothing and shows how cultural items from the Orient may have been understood and worn in a westernised context. Alongside the Cantonese shawl, a small toiletry case is displayed, which features designs and motifs that are heavily east-Asian inspired. Despite a lack of information on this piece, the purpose can be assumed to be that of western consumption, with copies of this very product being found on selling sites such as eBay.

Throughout Reorienting the Orient, the idea of a difference in production and consumption remains constant, with comparisons between the intended purposes, trade routes and the adopting of the exhibited garments into western society.

The exhibition, curated by Annie Wright, Grace Dowle, Megan Glass, Avery Chamberlain and Eden Cronin, is now available for viewing on the second floor of Mithras House (top of the Hellerup stairs).

Students’ work on display at Brighton & Hove Museums

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery have opened a new display that features work from MA Curating Collections and Heritage students

“DO NOT TOUCH!!!!” is a display of student posters that all try to challenge the classic signage in museums that ask visitors not to touch the collections. It is on at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery over the next few months.

Caring for Collections and their Users

 

Museum visitors often report feeling out of place or self-conscious in museums, and signage and instructions that dictate how visitors should behave are often part of the alienation and embarrassment that prevents some people from enjoying museums.

Classic signage that MA Curating students hope to avoid

Students on the module ‘Caring for Collections and their Users’ try to take a different approach. As part of their assessment they are challenged to present complex conservation information about caring for objects to museum audiences in an accessible and engaging way. Students can choose to produce a poster that encourages visitors to not to touch, or they can opt to design a set of child-friendly instructions for the safe handling of a mixed range of objects in a schools handling box. Their designs are informed the debates around access, learning, collections research, preventative conservation and audience development that are covered on the module.

Working with Brighton & Hove Museums

 

Each year, students on the MA Curating benefit from conservation workshops run by staff from Brighton & Hove Museums. This year, our long-term relationship with Gaye Conley, Head of Conservation, has led to an invitation to our students to display their posters. Gaye writes

I have wanted to display the students’ work for several years. It’s rewarding to see the outcome of the talks we have undertaken with the students, and it will be fascinating to watch the public engage with the students’ work.

Student posters on display at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Student Success

 

In the space available, Brighton & Hove Museum staff chose three posters produced in recent years. Ellie Bedford designed ‘Museum in a Box!’ to support a school session to help children safely handle objects; Paige Franklin designed ‘Look at Me!’ for an art and design gallery that has fragile objects on open display, and Elliot Thorn produced ‘Vase on a Plinth’ to help people see the consequences of touch, and what might happen if they bring food into the gallery. All of the posters use bold graphics and clear text to encourage visitors to feel welcome in the museum, and informed about how to care for our shared heritage.

Ellie writes,

The poster design was a fun challenge! I enjoyed bringing together all of the curating skills and academic theories that we had learnt, and applying them to a practical task. It’s very rewarding seeing it in print!

‘Museum in a Box!’, Ellie Bedford, 2022

 

‘Look at Me!’, Paige Franklin, 2023

Elliot writes,

Designing the poster was a fun experience. It was a challenge to figure out how to convey meaning without written language. One of my aims was to make the poster accessible to people whose first language wasn’t English, so clear visual storytelling was important. Overall, I’m happy with the end result!

 

‘Vase on a Plinth’, Elliot Thorn, 2022

 

Their university and museum tutors couldn’t be prouder! Congratulations all!