Monday, 17 November 2014

'It's My Party!' exhibition at V&A Museum of Childhood

As part of my MA in Education in Museums and Galleries, I had my work placement scheme with the V&A Museum of Childhood. Since I have already worked in Education team, I signed up to work with the Community development team to broader my understanding of the museum's programme. The museum has a great legacy in its outreach programmes for the past ten years, it even has a special gallery space dedicated for the community work. Working under Teresa Hare Duke, I had the opportunity to be involved in many projects which celebrate the rich and diverse communities linked to the museum.  From New Voices festival, liasing with local charities such as Praxis well as various refugee communities, to national events like 2014 launch of the Big Draw, it has been an incredible learning curve for me to get such hands-on experience in this vibrant yet very sensitive area, bridging the museum and its communities.
My main involvement during the placement was in "It's My Party" exhibition. For this show, Teresa designed a story based on three
characters from the collection: Wilfred, Pip and Squeak. The trio were popularised as a
newspaper strip cartoon published in the Daily Mirror from 1919 to 1956. The show
revolves around a new spin-off story about Wilfred’s surprise birthday party: as Wilfred
does not want presents, his friends have to come up with alternative ways to treat him on his 95th
birthday. This narrative was used as a platform to discuss the social construction of birthday
parties and the experience of birthdays with members of the community. The main idea was
for the exhibition to be an immersive illustration of this narrative, enhanced with
contributions from the participants. It was divided into three main sections: an animation,
an installation of a party table made by local school children and invited artists, and a glass
showcase display explaining the concept of the show, information on selected objects from
the collection, as well as excerpts from interviews with local community members about
their birthday experiences.

 We started by doing outreach sessions at 2 local primary schools. We interviewed the children about their birthdays and asked them to help constructing the installation of Wilfred's birthday party. As an illustrator, I was also very keen to do drawing activities and create a visual response to the stories we were collecting. Throughout these sessions, the story of Wilfred’s
birthday was told and used as a platform for participants to investigate their own ideas and
perspectives. For instance, we explained Wilfred’s story and asked what else one could give
him? Instead of asking participants to answer verbally, facilitators then distributed drawing
materials and allowed participants to illustrate their ideas on paper. Another challenge
occurred here, as each participant had various levels of confidence and concentration. This
was solved by focusing on the communicative function of their illustration rather than
technical accuracy and by encouragement. As proven in illustration classes, we found that asking exploratory questions, such as ‘What is it?’, ‘Why is it
drawn this way?’ or ‘How do we represent this?’, worked to motivate more meaningful
responses. Furthermore, by contextualising the contribution as illustrations, participants
focused on the message of their work and felt less pressured to work to a presumed
aesthetic of the finished show. At the end, we gathered large amount of paper cakes, sandwiches, doughnuts and great drawings from the sessions.
It then took us about a month to put the exhibition together. In addition to the children's contribution, we also commissioned local artists and designers to create guests for the party, inspired by the museum's collection. I personally selected artist Simon Santhanam (whose work deals with theme of introvert boyhood), and fashion designer Luke Anthoney Rooney (whose work deals with the theme of excess) to participate and contribute their dialogue into the show. I also, very cheekily, create a personal artwork to put in a show myself as well, Can you spot my piece in the installation?
My biggest achievement though, is creating 5 meters table cloth collage. I mixed the children's drawings from the outreach sessions with my own drawings, of the children I met at the sessions, of vintage advertising about birthday since 1920s (Wilfred's era) to the present, and of photographs by Hackney-based photographer Colin O'Brien. By creating this collage, I wanted to bring together all the strands of this exhibition: the historical timeline, social construct of birthday, locality and participation. It was hard work doing it all by hand, but it all worth-while when I saw the children coming in and recognised their pictures on the table cloth, so excited to be part of this vibrant exhibition.
The exhibition finally opened on the 18th of September 2014 and recieved great feedback. The day also marked the finish of my placement with the Community development team at V&A Museum of Childhood. It was such a remarkable experience and I couldn't Thank everyone at the museum, especially Teresa, quite enough for this valuable opportunity. The exhibition will be on till Feb, so I hope you'll have a chance to drop by and check out the show! here are some photos from our opening:

No comments:

Post a Comment