About the Art: Daksha Patel
19 May 2017 | 12:00 am

Fri, 19th May 2017

We spoke to Daksha Patel about her new artwork Pani, which you can see for free in the Natural History Gallery.What was the inspiration behind Pani? The work is about water and our relationship with it. A significant part of the human body is comprised of water, and it is central to all ecosystems. Water is a symbol of purification in many South Asian cultures, and yet it is also contaminated and a source of pollution. Water moves across boundaries - geographical, political, economic and cultural - it is a highly contested resource. Whilst looking at maps of ecosystems across South Asia, I began thinking about how water moves across boundaries - geographical, political, economic and cultural - and how it is a shared, and consequently a highly contested resource. This simple molecule - H2O - is central to our biological selves and permeates ecosystems. It also permeates culture, and is implicated in all kinds of cultural and religious practices; for instance the concept of holy water is found in many different cultures. In South Asian cultures, water is often a symbol of purification through the ritual act of cleansing the body. And yet water is also routinely contaminated and polluted causing immense harm to humans and to ecosystems. The complex relationship that we have with water was the starting point for the work.How did the Horniman influence Pani? The Horniman is a really interesting Museum because it has such a diverse range of collections. As part of my research for this project, I visited the museum stores and looked at collections of South Asian water vessels and textiles. The shapes of the water pots, and the colours and patterns upon the textiles have all influenced the final work. But also, the way in which the Museum becomes wonderfully animated as groups of school children move through it has influenced how I think about the work. I’m interested in how they will engage with it as they move through the space. How did Pani develop from your initial thoughts to the display in the Natural History Gallery? Ideas evolved and changed from my original proposal as I started testing and exploring materials. I had initially imagined the map would be printed upon paper; the idea of printing it upon cloth and of using embroidery as a way of drawing into the map developed over time. This was influenced by the collections and a desire to make links between ecosystems and the cultures of the region. Similarly I had originallyplanned uponmaking drawings with slip (a mixture of clay and water) upon ceramic water pots. I have used slip as a drawing material in past projects and was keen to develop this further. As I was researching the impact of water pollution upon the human body (for instance high levels of arsenic in water causes rashes and blisters upon the skin), I started to think about the pots as bodies. The idea of damaging the pots by cracking/distorting their surface evolved from that.What do you want people to think about when they see Pani? The artwork makes connections between different things, for instance between ecosystems, water pollution and cultural traditions, or handmade crafts practices and twenty first century digital mapping technologies, or mapping symbols, drawing and embroidery. The central theme of water is addressed indirectly - I wanted to allow space for the imagination to make its own connections. Once a piece of artwork is completed and moves into the public realm outside the artist’s studio, it takes on its own life and meanings. Everyone brings their own interpretations; has their own way of looking at it.You can see Pani in the Natural History Gallery from Saturday 20 May to Sunday 26 November 2017.  Entry to the Gallery is free. The Horniman is grateful to Roseberys Fine Art Auctioneers for their generous support of this display.

Spring Welly Walk
15 May 2017 | 12:00 am

Mon, 15th May 2017

This spring, a group of young explorers and their families walked the length of the Horniman Nature Trail. They were accompanied by nature guide Shayna Soong and armed with binoculars and a Signs of Spring spotter sheet. Only one of the families had visited the trail before, so this was a real walk on the wild side for most of the group.The Horniman Nature Trail lies in an area that once formed part of the so-called Great North Wood. Other fragments of this wood are found in this area at One Tree Hill and Sydenham Hill Woods. In 1865 a railway line was built to bring visitors to Crystal Palace. This was the London, Chatham and Dover line. Almost all trees and vegetation were cleared to make the railway. A railway bridge used to cross London Road here to the Lordship Lane station. On our walk, we looked for historical clues and relics that remind us of its history as a railway line, such as the bumpy clinker underfoot.We also looked for signs of spring. The challenge was to keep an eye out for blossom, flowers, birds and pond life and fill out a spotter sheet. Once the sheet had been filled out, they could shout out BINGO (but not too loud as to disturb the wildlife!). We used a parabolic microphone to listen to birdsong which brought the lively chirping and tweeting so much closer.A male newt from the pond was met with shrieks of delight as it showed off its breeding spots and crests. We also looked at the bat boxes and bird boxes along the route. What will the Summer Welly Walk bring?  Come along on Saturday 8th July to find out! We also have two exciting Bat Walks coming up, one for families on the 11 August and one for adults on the 18 August. Come with us to explore these exciting creatures. 

Friends of the walrus
12 May 2017 | 12:00 am

Fri, 12th May 2017

Visitor Host Vicky King spends a lot of time with the big guy. She gives us her unique insights on what people think of our walrus. Working at the Horniman as a Visitor Host, I see countless children walk into the Natural History Gallery - eyes wide and transfixed while their jaw is ajar, one arm stretched out pointing, amazed and slowly saying, “Wallllrus!” The walrus is everyone’s favourite celebrity at the Horniman, including mine. Growing up visiting the Horniman means it has a special place in my heart. Since working here and finding out more about the collections my appreciation for the Horniman has increased. What is it about the walrus that makes it so loveable? It’s hardly something cute and familiar like a cat or dog. I’ve asked some of the visitors why they like the walrus to find out. “Because it’s fat!” shouted one little boy on a school trip, “He was here for a long, long time.” “When I was little I was really scared of the walrus,” a little girl told me and also proudly said how she wasn’t scared anymore and liked him now.Regular families to the Horniman always come to say hello to the walrus, but it’s not only children that are fond of him. “I love that story that the Victorians over stuffed him,” a lady told me. “I guess it’s that all the other animals are real representations of what they are but the walrus is just funny looking because it’s too big. Also walruses look a bit funny with their tusks,” one of our volunteers said while we chatted about the Museum. This seems to be a popular theme adults like. I also love that one of our most popular exhibits is so popular because it's not actually correct. A question we get asked a lot in the Natural History Gallery about everything is, “Is it real?” Visitors particularly ask this about the walrus. People know it’s wrong but they can't always put their finger on why. When told the story of it being over stretched (because the people who stuffed it didn’t know what a walrus looked like) always gets a positive reaction. For me one thing that really made me love the walrus was a story Jo Hatton our Keeper of Natural History told us while she gave a tour of the Gallery. The walrus wasn’t always the focal point of the Natural History Gallery. You can see in photos of the museum years ago that we had much more larger animals on display including a polar bear.However, the larger animals sold at auction in Deptford during the 1940s, and some ended up as amusements in Southend for people to have their photos taken with. The walrus was spared this fate probably because he’s so funny looking and no one wanted to buy him. I think this story is so sweet, like The Ugly Duckling, but in the walrus' story he didn’t turn into a beautiful swan, people just learned to love him for being funny looking. Why do you love the walrus? Tell us online using #Horniman.

How to make an origami walrus
9 May 2017 | 12:00 am

Tue, 9th May 2017

Coco Sato shows us how to recreate our star Natural History specimen in paper form.  We recently had origami artist, Coco Sato, come into the Museum for one of our Big Wednesday events. Coco made some amazing giant origami animals with our visitors and had a pop-up installation in our Music Gallery.  As an added extra for us, Coco showed us how to make an origami walrus, in honour of the big man himself.It was modelled on the walrus in our Natural History Gallery. Here, you can see how Coco copied the walrus' shape and size into paper form. If you would like to make your own origami walrus, you can watch the following video where Coco goes through the whole process.  All you need is a square of coloured paper and some scissors. If you do manage to master the skill, share your masterpieces with us on social media using #horniman.


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