On a recent trip to the UBC area we made a little stop at the Museum of Anthropology to check out the visiting installation of art from Arabic artists. This is Vancouver’s first major exhibit of modern work from places like Iran and Turkey and we were curious to have a look. The exhibit, called Safar/Voyage (“voyage” being the word safar translated from Persian) and encompasses views on the world as seen through the eyes of modern middle easterners.
The works display an interaction with themes of tradition, border crossing, a sense of belonging, living with violence, and a search for identity. The pieces have clear messages hidden both within the physical forms of the art and also within the context of the visual elements.
What I found perhaps most interesting about the exhibit is that it includes so many different kinds of media. There are paintings, brass sculpture, video installations, photography, neon, and even a hand-woven carpet. I found the dramatic clash of media helped to tell the story of people seeking, journeying, finding, or, perhaps, not finding. I saw strength as well as sadness in most of the pieces – pride despite victimization, courage despite hopelessness.
Photos weren’t permitted but you can see some of the exhibit’s pieces online. A neat feature, but there’s reason enough to visit MOA just to interact with and appreciate the scale of the large instalation pieces or to spend a few moments with the photography and paintings.
MOA also offers access to an amazing collection of cultural relics from all over the world. The central rooms display thousands of artifacts from clothing to tools to visual art and furniture in glass cases (allowing you to see the front, back and sides of the pieces). There are also drawers full of additional pieces in cabinets throughout these Multiversity Galleries. It feels a bit like you have been granted access to the museum’s behind-the-scenes catalog — a browsing system available there steers you to specific interests or you can just wander through shelves of masks, pottery, hair adornments and other objects by region or time period.
I always like looking into the restoration rooms that are restricted but offer a nice view into the world of preservation anyway.
A healthy collection of art and objects collected from in and around British Columbia is always on display as well as an incredible goruping of European ceramics. I am always intrigued to visit the totems in the Great Hall and, especially in the lovely May weather we’ve been having, sit outside near the Hida houses.
Tour guides will talk about the history of original settelers here and a little about the ethical issues that arise in the display of First Nations carvings and ceremonial artifacts. Not knowing very much of the cultural history of this area myself, I always try to tag along a tour for at least part of my visit and hear what I can. To see the impressive size and skill of the carvings begs for an understanding of where they once stood and what they were meant for. The glass and concrete of their current museum home seems at odds with the naturalness of the shapes. It also seems, for all it’s modern stregnth, unable to contain the spirit of the works even now.