Workshop: Handling Objects at The Oriental Museum

On the 1st of November, the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture organized a workshop on the premises of the Oriental Museum, formally known as the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, for the new Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars. Aside from contemplating one of the many facets of colonialism promoted through a contemporary lens, by perusing the galleries, one could not help but be naturally absorbed in understanding the concept behind the pedagogy of this educational museum, whose collections continue to expand and provide an interactive means of understanding a slice of history. What is particularly interesting about the collection is the juxtaposition of the “old” and the “new”, often displayed side by side, challenging traditional modes of representation and ultimately changing the ways of seeing.


The name of the workshop, “Handling Objects”, already suggests a thrilling enterprise, and the venture has proved to bring fresh insights with regards to both the Oriental Museum’s growing collection, and to the intimate experience of object handling. Presently a privilege for specialists, object handling has the potential of enhancing the ability of understanding the history of a specific piece, while at the same time raising new questions regarding aspects of materiality and sensorial perception. One cannot help but wonder at the perks of such a possibility made accessible to a wider audience; in the words of Dr Craig Barclay, the head of the museum, an ideal world would be one in which visitors could not only benefit from contemplating cultural objects displayed in a closed, “safe” space, but one in which the members of the public are actively given the choice of handling these objects. Indeed this would irrevocably change the way in which we engaged with a museum object and has the potential to, no doubt, revolutionize the reality of a museum experience in more ways than one.



Iris Ordean, November 2016


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