Reconnecting with Collections

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To mark Mental Health Awareness Week this guest post from Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan, offers some personal reflections of getting the collections ready for the ‘To Have and To Heal’ project. To Have and To Heal is a unique arts and wellbeing programme, supporting Covid recovery and resilience using Manchester Museum’s world class Egyptology collection, and the popular fascination with ancient Egypt.

Among my highlights of 2021 were the spring days spent in the Museum photographing and filming content for our ‘To Have and To Heal’ project, when we were able to be onsite again after months of Lockdown.

Three people with masks on, standing in a store room
Campbell (Curator of Egypt & Sudan), Jake (Filmographer) and Julia (Photographer) excited to be back in the Museum after Lockdown 2, in the Egyptology store, ready to select artefacts for To Have and To Heal.

Over the space of several weeks, photographer Julia Thorne visited the Museum (often giving me a lift in from our mutually-adopted city of Liverpool!) to undertake detailed photos of over 30 objects, many of them never professionally recorded before. Setting up shots took some time, but this was a very welcome excuse to be back in the storerooms and interacting with objects again.

Photography is a wonderful opportunity to really examine objects (literally!) under a different light. Unnoticed details emerge, even with artefacts that you may think you know well and have had the privilege of getting close to in the past. And this is one of the big take-aways we hope for the project: to encourage mindfulness, and taking the time to stop and notice the small things – be they in our normal surroundings, or on a 3400-year-old work of an ancient Egyptian craftsman.

Often these details would simply escape notice behind glass in a museum display, or even in a store room, when you can get relatively close. A scarred wooden mallet used, perhaps, to build a pyramid; a polished wand of hippopotamus ivory, etched with magically protective images; a bright blue faience amulet, whose intricacies only really appear when magnified through a camera lens. And so the joy of sharing details and joining in the speculative sport of asking ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ really got to the heart of the project for me.

  • Wooden mallet
  • Two white boomerang-shaped pieces of ivory with images of animals carved on the surface
  • Two statues showing women kneeling with hands on their heads
  • Part of a ceramic tile showing the tail fo a fish, lillypads and other green, white and blue decoration
  • Statue of a man sat on a large chair with a hat on
  • Carved red-coloured stone

In addition to photography, we have also produced a series of short films in which I discuss the eight themes into which we have divided the material being presented in the project, ranging from bereavement to contemplating eternity, magical healing to the sense of touch.

Tiles for 8 films from website
8 films, with BSL signed versions and transcripts also available: https://www.mmfromhome.com/to-have-and-to-heal

Working with Jake and Alex from Blue Shoes productions, this was another wonderful chance to reconnect with collections and get up close and personal with them – under different lighting conditions and with the possibility to cut in details from Julia’s beautiful photographs. Artefacts can look different under the camera lens, and the chance to see someone handle objects on film also provides an important sense of scale for viewers, especially those who may not have seen items in person or only through photographs.

Man in a yellow jumper with gloves on leans over a balcony in an object store
Dr Campbell Price behind the scenes in the Museum’s Egyptology stores for the compilation of the ‘To Have and To Heal’ films.

As a bit of a show-off, I really enjoyed speaking on camera and talking about themes which connect ancient artefacts with our experiences and realities today. Big thanks to Julia, Jake and Alex for all their hard work. You can access the 8 thematic films that form part of the To Have and To Heal project on our website: www.mmfromhome.com/to-have-and-to-heal. I hope you will enjoy the results!

We are extremely grateful to The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund – delivered by the Museums Association, for its generous support in making this project possible.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Campbell@Manchester says:

    Reblogged this on Egypt at the Manchester Museum and commented:
    An update on our latest project, ‘To Have and To Heal’!

    Like

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