Behind The Scenes: Curating the WWI Exhibition

Documenting World War I and capturing it in a new and exciting exhibition is no easy feat just one year after the centenary celebrations saw every museum, gallery and cultural organisation in the country commemorating it. Such was the project tasked to the university’s MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students who, in just five short weeks, planned and curated the joint exhibitions Art of Warfare: Global Interactions and I‘m On My Way for the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery.

The exhibition themes compliment each other well with that of global interactions standing by the communication and worldwide movement which took place during the first world war. Each exhibition takes objects from the University’s Liddle Collection which, housed in Special Collections, ‘documents and preserves first hand accounts of individuals who experienced the two World Wars’. This personal approach of individuals who have experienced the global movement of the first world war make these dual exhibitions, one presenting 2d objects, the other 3d, fascinating.

Immense challenges drove the curatorship of the exhibitions. All selection of the objects, labelling, themes, marketing strategies and liaison with the gallery and Special Collections was undertaken by the students on the exhibition teams. Anne-Marie Rooney, part of the Art of Warfare team, describes how ‘nobody in our group had ever put on an exhibition before which was a massive challenge’. A lack of experience does not show in the exhibitions’ expert historical background and interpretive theme, displayed through extended blurbs on the objects that are available next to the exhibit.

Another challenge that the teams faced was with the conservation team at Special Collections and the delicate objects which they must protect and preserve. ‘We discovered that the lights in the display cases were so bright that we couldn’t display any items that contain ink or fabric dyes,’ says Mhairi Benson, part of the I’m On My Way team, ‘The nine objects we have in the cases are the only nine we were allowed to display.’ Despite this, the interpretation and theme of the exhibition is strong as a testament to the label writing and interpretive themes of personal travel and communication during the war.

Standing at the public opening event in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery it is clear how much work has gone into creating such an emotive and personal response to the First World War. Ellie Pandya, of the Art of Warfare team said, ‘Everyone has been interacting with the display objects as we wanted tonight; quite close and personal.’ Visitor interaction and response is vital to the future work of the students and the gallery, situated in Parkinson building. ‘The exhibitions are fantastic and the standard of work is extremely high,’ says Anna Turner, an MA student at the university, ‘Despite the different levels of experience and the time pressures the groups were facing the work that has been produced is of an extremely high and professional standard’.

Art of Warfare: Global Interactions and I’m On My Way are open for free in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, Parkinson Building from Tuesday 27th October 2015 – Friday 18th December 2015.

Hayley Reid

Image: Nanha Song

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