Kew at the British Museum blog
Follow Kew's horticulture experts, Steve Ruddy, Tony Hall and Richard Wilford, as they build a series of landscapes at the British Museum in London.
These landscapes represent a unique partnership between the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, celebrating a shared vision to strengthen cultural understanding and support biodiversity conservation across the world.
The landscapes are inspired by the collections of the British Museum and Kew. They draw attention to the importance of these chosen countries and their rich variety of plants and trees, and the value that their native people place upon them as cultural symbols and resources in daily life.
This year's North American landscape will take visitors from the Florida swamps, through the Missouri prairie to the New England forest – all without leaving London.
Handling events for visually impaired people are commonplace at the British Museum. However, the Museum’s Landscapes, which have spectacularly graced the forecourt on three occasions, present a magnificent opportunity to programme something more unique and unusual for this target audience.
On 3 September 2010 the British Museum organised an event in the South Africa Landscape for visually impaired visitors, which not only focused on the spoken word, touch and handling, but also utilised other senses more fully, such as smell, through the existence of plants and hearing through the use of live music.
The event was facilitated by curator Chris Spring; South African percussionist and composer Eugene Skeef and Caroline Cartwright from the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. The day of the event was a bright sunny September morning - fitting for a walk through a South Africa Landscape. The visually impaired visitors who attended the event were all - apart from one - blind. The session began with Chris’ contextual introduction whilst Eugene gently played his instruments in the background.
As the group proceeded around the Landscape, they were invited to touch the plant life and feel the reproductions of famous examples of rock art. They heard about the significance of the Landscape from Caroline and Chris and listened to the soft gentle rhythms of Eugene’s percussion.
The group found the multi-sensory dimension of the experience illuminating and moving. A couple of the group danced to the live percussion and others rhythmically clapped their hands. Eugene encouraged the group to feel the instruments. Some were thus motivated to experiment with making their own sounds. By the end of the session, the entire group were engaged with making music together.
It was a dynamic event and unforgettable because of the reaction it stirred in the participants. Their elation at the end of the session was a touching reminder of how museums can unequivocally provide stimulating and exciting experiences for blind audiences, despite their often primary concentration on the visual. The delight in the participant’s faces – in fact in all our faces - was a moving testimony to the success of the event.
As a consequence - we’re planning another similar event in the Landscape for the same target audience before it closes on the 10th October. In Chris Spring’s words ‘this would be a great thing to do before we say farewell.’
- Jane Samuels -
Access and Equality Manager, British Museum
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I have been meaning to tell the story of the wonderful workshops with my friends and colleagues from South Africa Mario Mahongo and Andriy Kashivi of the !Kung San people which took place up to and including Mandela Day. They started on a very sad note as Mario and Andriy’s friend and colleague Manuel Masseka was taken seriously ill on arrival and has only just returned to South Africa, though much recovered thanks to the wonderful treatment he received at University College London hospital.
Every cloud has a silver lining though, and by an amazing stroke of luck I was introduced to the South African musician, percussionist, composer and director Eugene Skeef at a party the next day organised by John Battersby in honour of our San guests. Eugene immediately volunteered to stand in for Manuel and ever since then he has become one of the family at the British Museum.
Dr June Bam-Hutchison and the Reverend Mario Mahongo in the South Africa Landscape.
Together with my friend Dr June Bam-Hutchison we proceeded to have some great story-telling and musical jam sessions in the South Africa Landscape and the African galleries. Andriy played the San mouth bow/khou which makes a small, but very beautiful sound, while Eugene played a whole range of instruments including the berimbau which is a much larger musical bow with a gourd resonator – and I became quite proficient on the udu (a ceramic drum in the form of a pot made by the Igbo people of Nigeria).
Our music would be punctuated by stories in the !Kung San language narrated by Mario Mahongo, then repeated in Afrikaans to June who then translated into English for the audience. Sounds complicated, but it was entrancing for all concerned. Human languages are composed from a selection of approximately 160 sounds which the human voice, throat and mouth can make. Languages such as English and French contain approximately 40 of these sounds – !Kung San, with its wonderful repertoire of clicks and glottals, utilises approximately 120.
I saw Eugene yesterday with his wife and children beside the Landscape after one of his show-stopping musical story telling sessions in the African galleries – all resulting from that chance meeting – and they all said how much they feel at home with us. Eugene and I, together with Caroline Cartwright of the British Museum and Steve Ruddy of Kew, will shortly be going on a ‘Sensory Walk’ in the Landscape together with a group of blind and visually impaired people. My next blog!
- Chris Spring -
Curator, British Museum
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I have just met the South African artist Sabela Mahlangu "under the quiver tree" where I learned that he knew artist John Muafangejo well, when they were both studying art at Rorke's Drift (a name sadly so much more famous for killing than creation).
John Muafangejo (1943-1987) was among the first 'modern' artists from Africa to gain an international reputation in the late 20th century. The British Museum has a number of his works in the collections, including 'A Kuanjama Wedding' currently on display in the Sainsbury African galleries. Muafangejo included a portrait of Mahlangu in his 1974 work Orange Farm.
Quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) in their native habitat in South Africa.
As Sabela and I walked through the South Africa Landscape he began to feel at home, especially when he saw the 'star plant' label showing the thatched Ndebele house with its elaborate decoration and the ladies sitting outside wrapped in colourful blankets. "One of them could be my wife", he said smiling wistfully.
I told him how, at the community event a couple of weeks earlier, I had spoken to a woman who had left South Africa during the struggle, and had not returned to her native land. I spoke to her in the evening of that beautiful sunny day. Although she had been at the Museum since it had opened at 10am that morning, she had returned again and again to the landscape during the day, always remembering - and at the same time seeing or learning something new. By the time she spoke to me in the landscape that evening, she felt that she had "come home".
I left Sabela in the landscape with a promise that I would see him there again very soon.
- Chris Spring -
Curator, British Museum
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I’ve just given a lunchtime talk in the South Africa Landscape “Caves, people and plants: recent scientific discoveries” to an enthusiastic crowd of people. After a few nervous glances at the sky - in case we were about to be deluged - I tried to paint a picture of life in caves in the south-western Cape around 60,000 years ago. Life wasn’t that bad then – living off crayfish and eland steaks (if you were lucky in fishing and hunting)!
Image copyright of Caroline Cartwright: restios growing in the fynbos in the Cape
Many of the audience had visited South Africa, particularly Cape Town, the Garden Route and the Kruger National Park. Everyone seemed thrilled to see the proteas – thank goodness you found them, Steve and Richard. There were questions about restios growing in the wild and I was able to show a good example in this image.
My next talk on plants in the South Africa Landscape will be on Tuesday 24 August when I will concentrate on the amazing fynbos vegetation which is so typical of the Cape.
- Caroline -
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When the quiver tree was planted, Richard and I had a tear in our eyes...(well not me, Richard is more delicate than I). It looks absolutely magnificent, and no, its not made of plastic!
Then came the strange fokeas and pachypodiums, closely followed by a group of wild west desert doppelgängers, which are actually euphorbias and not 'wild west cacti' at all. The rock art is also really amazing and brings even more interest to the Landscape. Well done Tas, our rock artist, for producing the carvings.
Throughout the build, we had reports of frosts and even snow. As a result we had to cover our plants with a warming quilt, otherwise known as a fleece membrane. Then we had the 'ash cloud', but thankfully, that only posed a threat to high flyers and not sea containers.
As our build comes to its final stage, I want to say a huge thanks to everyone on the team that has helped to make this project a reality. A truly great start, we will build on our achievement over the next six months as we continue to tend to our Landscape. The next challenge is to keep our plants from South Africa alive and healthy throughout the summer months.
At the end of this week, we will add the final touches and lay the path surface. Then it's all go for the official South Africa Landscape opening on Tuesday 27 April.
- Steve Ruddy -
(Head of Garden Development Unit at Kew)
- Discover the South Africa Landscape
- South Africa Landscape on Flickr
- Building a global network - Kew's work in Africa
- Explore plants and fungi with Kew
- British Museum
About the South Africa Landscape
This spring, Kew and the British Museum are bringing a small corner of South Africa to the heart of London. The South Africa Landscape, sponsored by Barclays, which opens on 29 April 2010 on the Museum’s west lawn, will highlight the rich diversity of plant life from South Africa’s Cape region – an area that is home to all three of the country’s internationally renowned biodiversity hotspots. 2010 has been declared International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations and the Landscape will also coincide with the spotlight on South Africa in the run up to the FIFA World Cup.
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About Steve, Tony and Richard
Steve Ruddy is Manager of the Garden Development Unit, and is responsible for concept design, planning and delivery of a diverse range of projects, services and activities at Kew.
Tony Hall is responsible for Kew’s Arboretum, managing the globally important plant collections and heritage landscape. Expert in all aspects of plant growth and care, Tony manages the Arboretum Nursery ensuring the collections are safe guarded for the future. You can find out more about his work by following the Arboretum team blog.
Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include both nursery collections and collections on public display such as the Alpine plants, Grass Garden, Woodland and Rock Garden, and Order Beds at Kew. Richard also frequently contributes to the Alpine and Rock Garden team blog.
The Landscape starts to take shape: Great post and nice blog. beautiful images.beautiful garden and unique blog. thanks for posting it.. by: umesh
The changing and developing landscape: Great post and nice photos. very informative and interesting blog.thanks for sharing unique blog.. by: umesh
Sourcing plants for the North American landscape: Looks to be a wonderful display. Should you require S. purpurea replacement specimens, we have thous ... by: Arthur
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