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Manga and the Museum

The latest temporary exhibition to grace Room 3 is well worth a visit if you haven’t been already – entitled ‘Manga now: three generations’, it’s the perfect introduction to an art form that most of us have heard of, but few of us understand.

It’s only relatively recently that the significance of manga as an art form has been widely recognised by the West – many people falsely assumed that manga equated to cartoons and was aimed primarily at children and teenagers. However, in Japan, manga is enjoyed by audiences of all ages and covers a wide variety of genres and societal issues.

In fact, the exhibition’s first surprise comes when it reveals just how far back Manga’s origins lie – the term was first coined by Hokusai (of The Great Wave fame) and can be playfully translated as ‘pictures run riot’. The art form was developed in the early 20th century but is based on traditional Japanese artistic and literary genres that stretch much further back – the narrative handscrolls that were produced from AD 1100 and illustrated printed books from the 1700s onwards.

Although the British Museum has collected manga for over 60 years, it has only recently begun to acquire drawings and paintings by contemporary manga artists. This display has been designed to celebrate these recent acquisitions, and features the work of three leading contemporary artists. Nakamura Hikaru is currently the seventh bestselling manga artist in Japan and represents the most recent generation of manga artists. Chiba Tetsuya is a specialist of sports manga that relate a young person’s struggle for recognition through dedication to sport.

Manga

Works by the three artists - Nakamura Hikaru, Hoshino Yukinobu and Chiba Tetsuya

In between these two generations we have Hoshino Yyukinobu, one of Japan’s best-known science fiction manga artists who also specialises in mystery. One of his most popular works has been Case Records of Professor Munakata, and following visits to London in 2008 and 2009, he decided to create a number of episodes set in the British Museum. In these, crime-fighting anthropologist Munakata Tadakusu investigates a spate of thefts from the museum. The British Museum Press had the pleasure of publishing these in English as Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure in 2011, and you can see some of the illustrations in the gallery. In this compilation of ten episodes Professor Munakata embarks on a series of exciting adventures at the British Museum, featuring some of its most iconic objects – from the Rosetta Stone to the Lewis Chessmen.

Professor Munakata visiting the British Museum

We hope that you learn as much from the display as we did, and enjoy seeing one of our books in the limelight! If you’re feeling inspired you can pick up a copy of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure from the gift shop on your way out, or online here if you can’t wait til then!

Professor Munakata

Ice Age art Exclusive Extract!

Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind opens today at the British Museum.  To mark the opening of the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, we’ve included here some exclusive content from the exhibition catalogue, written by Ice Age art curator Jill Cook.

Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind

‘The oldest sculpture in the British Museum’s collection is a pair of reindeer made from mammoth ivory at least 13,000 years ago. Researching it or our project A History of the World in 100 Objects, I was astonished that such a realistic and aesthetically pleasing image was made so long ago by a skilled craftsman who was a practised artist. The time and skill lavished upon it suggest that it was a valued yet apparently functionless object in the hunter-gatherer community that owned it towards the end of the last Ice Age. I now realize that is quite young by comparison with other sculptures, drawings and ornaments representing animals and people, many of which have been brought together for a special exhibition entitled Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind.

The Swimming Reindeer

The Swimming Reindeer

Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind presents sculpture, drawings models and jewellery from across Europe and Eurasia. It includes the oldest known images of animals and people in the world. Dating from the last 40,000 years of the last Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, these works are contemporary but generally less well known than the paintings from caves such as Lascaux and Altamira that date from the same period. They are equally and, in some respects, even more revealing about the innovations of artists whose works we can enjoy because they use the same parameters of expression that every artist has used since. This is not because there is a continuity of tradition: it is because we all have the same remarkable, complex brain that enables us to imagine and communicate ideas beyond words in images and through music.’
Neil MacGregor
Director, The British Museum

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Towards the end of August 1939, Robert Wetzel, Professor of Anatomy at Tübingen University in Germany, and geologist Dr Otto Völzing, hastily packed up numerous fragments of mammoth ivory from their excavations in the back of Stadel Cave on the Hohlenstein in the Lone Valley, south-west Germany. The outbreak of war was imminent and both had received call-up papers bringing their archaeological work to a halt. A letter by Wetzel dated 28 August indicates that he hoped to work on the ivory pieces in more peaceful times, but the course of the war prevented that hope. The finds would not be re-examined for thirty years.

After the war, the finds were eventually sent to Ulm, where Dr Joachim Hahn began to work on them. In sorting the tusk fragments he realised that they fitted back together and that over 200 of the fragments formed a sculpture of a standing figure with human and animal characteristics. When first published in 1970, the figure caused a sensation although it was uncertain whether the animal features were those of a bear or a big cat. The discovery and restoration of further fragments of the head in 1989 showed that it represented a lion and the sculpture became known as der Löwenmensch (the lion person).

It was quickly recognized as not only the largest known sculptural representation of this period but also indicative of a mind capable of imagining new concepts rather than simply reproducing real forms. Gradually it was realized that such a mind must indicate the activity of a complex super brain like our own, with a well-developed pre-frontal cortex powering the capacity to communicate ideas in speech and art. What might have been an arcane archaeological discovery became a talking point for the developing field of neuroscience and evolution of our grey matter. Recent excavations at the site by Claus-Joachim Kind have produced a series of radiocarbon age estimates that indicate that the statue is about 4,000 calendar years old.

Text, Swimming Reindeer image and Ice Age art book spreads  ©Trustees of the British Museum

Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind opens today at the British Museum, and runs until 26th May 2013.

Extracted from Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind by Jill Cook, available for £25.00 from the British Museum online shop.

Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam

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This week millions of Muslims will begin their journeys home from Saudi Arabia after Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and the following celebrations of Eid-al-Adha draw to a close.  One of the five pillars of Islam central to Muslim belief, every year the Hajj pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims from around the world to the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad -the holiest site in Islam. It is a ritual journey that every Muslim who is physically and financially able must make at least once in their lifetime.

We’ve had a special interest in Hajj this year as we are busy working on our next exhibition catalogue, Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam. Publishing to accompany a major British Museum exhibition of the same name (26 January -  15 April 2012)  the catalogue will trace the footsteps and personal experiences of pilgrims who have embarked on Hajj across the centuries, taking the reader on a physical and spiritual journey. The book won’t be released until January next year, but read the rest of this entry for some exclusive preview images of some of our favourite spreads, or visit the British Museum shop online now to preorder your copy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

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Here’s a sneak preview of our forthcoming exhibition catalogue Grayson Perry: The Tomb of Unknown Craftsman (publishing on the 3rd October).

Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry will be curating an installation of his new works alongside objects from the British Museum’s collection this autumn. To accompany the exhibition we will be publishing this beautiful catalogue; written by the artist and including over 200 colour illustrations.

Offering an insight into the artist’s fantastic imaginative world, the book draws on themes such as pilgrimage, transvestitism, shamanism and tomb guardians to take the reader on a journey to an imaginary afterlife….

Be one of the first to own a copy – pre-order yours now through the British Museum shop .

Find out more and book your tickets for the special exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman (6 October 2011 – 19 February 2012) now at britishmuseum.org/graysonperry