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Preview: The Curious Case of... at Great North Museum

CURIOUSER and curiouser, cried Alice, as her body shot up to 9ft tall after eating a piece of cake labelled “EAT ME”.

CURIOUSER and curiouser, cried Alice, as her body shot up to 9ft tall after eating a piece of cake labelled “EAT ME”.

Alice’s (of Wonderland fame) sentiment is shared by the 12 volunteer curators invited to delve deep into the treasure trove of the Great North Museum’s stores to select mystery objects for their newest exhibition, The Curious Case of ...

The exhibition’s title conjures up images of tweed-clad detectives, Victorian display cabinets, travellers to far and distant lands and mysteries to be solved.

Inspired by the voyages of local explorer Captain Cook, the exhibition has been led by a team of more than 100 young people from the North East who hope to inspire others to explore Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum’s world cultures collections.

Where most museum exhibitions seek to give us answers to questions about the past, The Curious Case of... offers only a paragraph here and a chapter there from each of the fascinating object’s stories, encouraging us all to become cultural detectives.

Take the curious case of the sea sponge coat.

Thoroughly impractical, hideous to look at and, apparently, rather smelly, this coat made entirely from natural sea sponges is a one of a kind. Where did it come from and why was it made?

Or the curious case of the Chinese history lesson. These pages from a Christian missionary’s textbook tell of the horrors of the Boxer Rebellion, in which many Westerners were slaughtered by Chinese Nationalist rebels. Are these delicately painted pages educational material, art or propaganda? A 21st Century cabinet of curiosities accompanies the exhibition, featuring uncanny artefacts and sculptures from local artists.

It’s all just so tactile and the urge to get your hands on what you see can be a little overwhelming. Luckily the curators thought about this and included plenty of touchy-feely items to keep your hands busy.

If your curiosity gets the better of you, you can find more information uncovered by the young curators online and the exhibition itself is equipped with iPads and a mini library to encourage your own investigations. This project has most definitely met its brief, exciting and inspiring us all to see world cultures in a new and engaging way.

The Great North Museum has opened Pandora’s Box and The Curious Case of... shows us what has spilled out so far.


David Whetstone
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