Exploring the British Museum’s South Asian collection at Blyth House
Early on the 12th of April 2016 members of the Community on Solid Ground women’s group with their group leaders and curators, Andrea Winn and Stephen Welsh, from Manchester Museum travelled by mini-bus to the British Museum’s West London stores at Blyth House. As part of the Manchester Museum Object Journeys project the women were down to collaboratively explore the British Museums collection and assess which objects Manchester Museum might wish to borrow as part of this partnership project.
Manchester Museum is the first national partner of the Object Journeys project and they are collaborating closely with Community on Solid Ground, a local organisation that is driven to improve the life opportunities, personal development, health and wellbeing of its local community in Manchester.
The purpose of the trip was to physically access parts of the British Museums South Asian collection and in particular textiles and embroidered clothing from Pakistan. The women, who are also working on their own Heritage Lottery funded project which aims to capture and recreate hobbies and past time from South Asia, specifically embroidery and sewing, were most interested in seeing examples of clothing, shawls, jewellery and decorative materials. Together with British Museum conservators, curator and museum assistants the women examined and investigated fine examples of mainly Pakistani textiles and jewellery from the Museum stores
Textiles with intricate detailing and elaborate stitching as well as those that require complex techniques were of great interest to the group. They discussed the processes and skills needed to create such garments and reflected on whether they or indeed older members of their group, not present at the visit, would be able to recreate these themselves.
The objects also encouraged the women to reflect on how style, fashions and culture both changed and remained constant over the years and what the major shifts they had noticed in their own lifetimes here in the UK compared to their parents and grandparents who would have been born in Pakistan.
The patterns and colours seen in the historic garments are still used today in contemporary South Asian fashion though the production techniques may not be the same with many garments machine made and printed rather than hand-sewn.
After a wonderful couple of hours exploring the collection, investigating the textiles in great depth, sharing stories and exchanging information on the objects brought out from the stores the women advised both Museum partners on which objects (three textiles) they would like to borrow. These objects will be leant to the Manchester Museum and installed in a collaboratively produced display in the Museums Living Cultures gallery.