15 May 2017

Exhibition review: Celebrating art and music: the SOAS collections at the Brunei Gallery

Exhibitions are a great way for libraries and organisations to highlight the strength of their collections through a creative narrative and relaxed environment. Exhibitions are also a great way to for librarians to increase public access to the collections. 

In April, the Brunei Gallery opened its Centenary Exhibition, 'Celebrating art and music: the SOAS collections'. This exhibition explores visual arts and music of Asia, Africa and the Middle East through the rich history of collections at SOAS, with a combination of manuscripts, books, painting, photographs, 3D objects and audio-visual display. 

I got my ticket for the official launch of the exhibition and headed of the gallery on May 3rd and I was amazed by what I saw on display. Curator Anna Contadini introduced the exhibition with Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp's modern welded steel sculptures. I loved her sculpture of a woman blowing kisses titled "Kissss Me" because it resembled the colour of a red lipstick. I also smiled at her stand alone sculpture of a mother, father and daughter dancing probably at a church as they each wore 'Jesus loves me' slogans. 

The exhibition continued through North African and the Middle East. Contadini stated that although some instruments were normally played by men during the Ottoman Period, women were depicted playing flutes and santurs. It was great to see this within the exhibition. The displays slowly changed toward Asian artworks with a long 17th-century Japanese scroll depicting a procession of Korean Ambassadors on horseback. This recently restored piece was beautiful and full of vibrant colours.  

We then encountered a set of 20th-century drums, metallophone, xylophone and gongs from across South-east Asia as the exhibition moved downstairs. To my surprise, we were led into a great live musical performance of a large Thai gong circle, that was also on display. Afterwards, our performer explained the significance these instruments played in the development of ceremonial music and the variety of set play variations that were introduced across the region. The gongs continuing to playing in the background really set the scene for the rest of the exhibition. 

I highly recommend you viewing the pioneering work of South Asian Ethnomusicologist Arnold Adriaan Bake; listening to the recording made from a Tibetan manuscript record of chants; photography from Mustang by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf and looking at the LP album covers of a collection of songs from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The exhibition closes on June 24th.

My main take away from the exhibition and talk by Contadini was the emphases she placed on the collections being central and reflective of the scholarly engagements at SOAS. From students playing many of the instruments on display and the new research analysis of music from art. 

Another perk about attending this exhibition opening evening was discounted sale of the accompanying exhibition catalogues. I took full advance of the 50% off to acquire the catalogue for my library collections. Unfortunately, this offer has now passed but you can pick up your copy of Celebrating art and music: the SOAS collections edited by Anna Contadini here

7 May 2017

'Printing and the Mind: Seventeenth-Century Transformations' Archive Evening

Straight after work on April 24th, I went to the Stationers' Company Annual Archive Evening. This year they held a forum on 'Printing and the Mind: Seventeenth-Century Transformations' in combination with an exhibition in association with Cambridge University Library.
The formal talk of the evening began with Liverymen and President of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, Gordon Johnson. He emphasised the importance of heritage assets been conserved and accessible and the great expansion of the history of the book in business and intellectual terms. He also made key announcements of the Stationers' Company effects in doing this, including a new digital publication of the Stationers' Company Archive with Adam Matthew Digital. 'Literary Print Culture: The Stationers' Company Archive, 1554-1984" is a valuable resource to explore the history of the book trade from 1554 to the 20th century. Also, a there is new Archives and Library facility due to open in November 2017 back in the Stationer's Hall.

Johnson followed up by introducing co-chair, Ian Gadd, book historian and Professor of English Literature at Bath Spa University. He reiterated the need for organisations to celebrate achievements in scholarly publishing before introducing our two speakers. Mr Scott Mandelbrote, Perne Librarian of Peterhouse, Cambridge, outlined the circumstances of learned printing presses predominating in London at the end of the 16th century. For example, problems in the cost of acquiring scholarly books mostly printed in Europe and the time taken for scholars to make language translations to print. 

Dr Freyja Cox Jensen, a lecturer at Exeter University, followed by giving an intriguing speech highlighting the English cultural history of classical learning. Once exclusive to rich predominantly white men, classical learning began to spread after 1711. To compete with European stationers, who at the time were at the forefront of scholarly publication, English stationers increased the quantity of printing with the development of new typefaces and metal engraved illustrations. This caused a reduction in book price as more scholars were able to purchase their own copies. I found it quite fascinating that the introduction of English language translations during the mid-17th century encouraged a rise in literacy as printing moved away for the limited knowledge of Latin. 

It was quite clear that classical learning and the development of printing technology greatly influences present day in terms of culture and thinking. Furthermore, its was quite interesting to know that as a few individuals tried to stop these new contributions to English literature, they had to learn to cope with the revolution of printing technology that has taken us into the digital age. Nonetheless, the history of university printing presses like Oxford and Cambridge through this revolution is important to conserve to understand how far we have come. 

After the talk and a brilliant spread of nibbles and refreshments, I took the opportunity to look around the exhibition. Curated by Liam Sims of Cambridge University, the exhibition displayed various manuscripts including Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665), Joseph Moxon's Mechanik Exercises (1682) covering all aspects of printing and Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society (1667) opened on the beautiful frontispiece of Charles II being crowned surrounded by many scientific instruments. It was also wonderful to see the intricate illustration of the opening page of the Stationers' Company charter issued by Charles II on display. 

The exhibition also highlighted new technologies for librarians and researchers from Cambridge University. For example, Cambridge Core, an academic platform bringing together 30,000+ eBooks and 360 journals in one platform. Also, Cambridge Archive Editions, a digitised research material of 1000 volumes of government records available in MARC format such as 'America and Great Britain: Diplomatic Relations, 1775-1815'. I took the opportunity to speak with presenters about the one-time fee for perpetual access available to institutions.
Furthermore, the exhibition showcased the important work of conservators such as the National Conservation Service whose repaired volume of 'Liber A' from the Stationer's Archive was on displayI met the Honorary Librarian, Andrea Cameron who introduced everyone to the Stationer's Foundation Library Fund, for the conservation and preservation of books and manuscripts in the Stationers' Company Library and Archives. If you would like to contribute to the restoration of the books you see below join-in the Support-A-Book scheme. 

To read more about the book trade check out these new titles from Palgrave Macmillan's New directions of Book History series: