Sunday, December 27, 2015

How the Mummymania Exhibition Came About

One of the many exciting things I did this year (and some of last year) was work as a researcher and assistant curator with Dr Andrew Jamieson on the Mummymania exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art which runs from September 29 2015 to April 17 2016.
My involvement was officially under the auspices of the University's Cultural Collections Projects Program, although I already knew Andrew who was my Honours supervisor during 2008 and 2009. Andrew and I started talking about the exhibition in late 2014. Initially we were going to do an exhibition on Egyptomania, which is the topic that I had done my Honours thesis on. I spent several months researching museum collections in Australia and contacting private collectors, including radio broadcaster Phillip Adams and ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating, to try and source objects. In the end, it turned out that there was simply not enough material available in Australia to go with the Egyptomania theme, and it was not possible to borrow from overseas institutions due to budget and time constraints. 
So, we re-thought the theme and decided on Mummymania as we knew that through the Potter's existing collection and Andrew's contacts that we would be able to get enough mummy-themed material to fill out an exhibition. I also sourced a mummified head and hand and accompanying CT scans from the Harry Brooks Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at the University of Melbourne. 
I researched both Egyptian mummies and the reception of the mummy in history and came up with four general themes: the mummy in regard to afterlife beliefs in ancient Egypt; the history of mummy unwrapping in the West which also links to the medical use of, and investigation into, mummies; and the reception of the mummy in popular culture. I then researched individual topics and wrote up text panels on Ancient Egypt, Afterlife Beliefs, Mummification, Mummy Unwrapping, Biomedical Research, the Ethics of Displaying Human Remains, and the Mummy as Hollywood Horror character. These information panels are displayed on the walls of the exhibition gallery. I also wrote the extended labels in the display cases, and the Introduction to the exhibition.
This was a lot of work, so why did I take time out of my already overdue PhD thesis on Tree Worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean to do this and what did I get out of it? Well, years ago when Andrew had supervised my Honours thesis on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their use and misuse of ancient Egyptian religion, we had vaguely discussed doing an Egyptian-themed exhibition. (Andrew's last Egyptian-themed exhibition was ten years ago). I have had an interest in the display of Egyptian antiquities in museums since my Honours thesis and I just decided (in 2014) to apply to do a project with Andrew through the Cultural Collections Projects Program. At that time Andrew did not have any specific project listed, but he contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in guest curating a show at The Potter, which of course I was. 
The outcomes for me so far include a stack of research material for future use, some popular articles, and radio interviews. I maintain an interest in ancient Egypt and the reception of Egyptian religion and visual style from the Roman period to today. I have a contract for a book chapter on this topic scheduled for publication in 2017, and a journal article in the works. Researching Egyptian mummies therefore functioned as background for these writing projects. I also wrote an article on the exhibition for The Conversation and this was re-printed in the University of Melbourne newspaper, Pursuit. The same day the Conversation article came out I was contacted by ABC radio and did a live interview for ABC Radio's RN Afternoons program, and ABC Radio Hobart's Drive program.
There are certainly more things I could do in regards to this exhibition but right now I simply MUST finish and submit my PhD thesis!!! 
Meanwhile, Mummymania is on until April 17th 2016, so go and see it!