Photograph of Ajlan Gharem’s instillation in the exhibition Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics (Photo by Matilda Davis, 2021)
This globally renowned Victoria and Albert Museum is a treasure trove of art and design. As you wander through this maze of artefacts you are offered a glimpse into many different cultures, as shown through examples of traditional and modern artwork – from textiles and clothing to architecture and paintings. Not only does the Victoria and Albert Museum hold beautiful examples of design, it also explores the social significance of these. A bag is not just fabric sewn together, but an expression of status, wealth, or political beliefs. A piece of porcelain is not just a broken pot, but a porthole back in time, showing us how people may have lived.
One of the best features of the V&A, is their ability to create exhibitions that evoke emotions and engage audiences in new cultures and discussions. In many cases, the design of the exhibition plays just as an important part in evoking these emotions as the objects on display. One of the star exhibitions currently showing is the Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics – a free exhibition featuring the work of eight designers inspired by Islamic tradition. The exhibition design reflects the cage like structure of Ajlan Gharem’s instillation. His piece, Paradise Has Many Gates, explores Saudi culture within the context of globalisation – the chicken wire, used create a replica of a traditional mosque, echoes the wire boarder fences found at refugee detention centres. This award-winning instillation is displayed alongside sculptural clothing, textiles, graphic designs, and samosa packets. This variety of media comes together to tell personal and political stories, and a truly moving exhibition.
Another notable display shows the newly restored Raphael cartoons. These incredible pieces were originally created as templates for ten tapestries which were hung in the Sistine Chapel. Out of the ten original cartoons seven are surviving today and these are all housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was lucky enough to hear one of the V&A volunteers giving a talk on the history of the Raphael cartoons, enriching the experience of seeing these masterpieces. Furthermore, during the Secrets of the Museum documentary, we are given a glimpse into the conservation efforts undergone to ensure these cartoons can be displays for the public to see.
Personally, my favourite galleries within the V&A include the cast courts, which house replicas of significant artwork from across the world, and the theatre and performance gallery, currently housing the On Point exhibition. While these galleries are very different in their contents, they are both awe-inspiring. The cast courts boast enormous casts, while the theatre galleries hold a variety of costumes and sets, each one more impressive than the one before. Whether you want to walk through the shimmering jewellery gallery or discover the intricacy of metalworking, there is something for everyone at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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Matilda Davis (she/her) is currently completing her master’s degree in Museum Studies. She has volunteered in many archives and museums, most recently at Whitehall Historic House where she helped to curate a temporary exhibition. Her ambition is to work in exhibition curation, and is excited to embark on work in the heritage sector.
Follow Matilda on Twitter: @MatildaWDavis