#uncletime with the walrus and llamas @HornimanMuseum and Gardens

We also had a visit (the first in a line of my relatives, they clearly know me well enough to know I’m likely to need encouragement/support by now…) from my brother, which coincided with some of the nicer weather. Apart from getting some quality playtime in, we also went to the Horniman Museum and Gardens in East Dulwich. Passing through SE London a fair amount, I’ve seen it advertised quite a lot. The setup is reasonably familiar – a Victorian gentleman collector, who was interested in other cultures (in the “how many beads do you want for that priceless treasure” way), who philanthropically opened his collection up for the edification of the masses. It then became too big and having knocked his house down to replace it with a purpose-built home then graciously donated it to the London County Council in 1901.

I think it’s safe to say that the collection then entered a slightly awkward phase, that is still having an impact on it today. It was organised by the prevailing ethnographic theory, which was, and it is incredible now to write this, that all non-Western cultures were human but simply not as evolved as us, and so you could map the stage of their evolution based on their technological and social advancement. It’s safe to say that Africa didn’t do well, although it wasn’t clear where this would leave the Welsh. Obviously, and as was pointed out on every information notice that mentioned this theory, we now know that this is wrong!

There were a lot of stuffed animals including the infamous walrus (@HornimanWalrus if you’re interested) demonstrating more conventional evolutionary theory, some real odds and ends such as a torture chair (probably mostly fake apart from the head screws – nice), and an entire gallery devoted to showing off the African artifacts the museum still holds, but in a much more culturally sensitive way. Clear existential guilt, although it was very interesting how masks play such a crucial cultural role in so many African societies, in the same way clothes and adornment do in the West.

The gardens were also nice – with a surprise city zoo – quite small but with 2 llamas, unlike Deen City farm which although much bigger overall has only 1. Perhaps this is how they measure themselves.


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