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

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