Ask the Expert: Antonia Lovelace, Curator of World Cultures at Leeds Museums and Galleries

It’s really busy at the moment here in Leeds for me as we make the final preparations for the new Voices of Asia gallery at Leeds City Museum. When we first opened the museum to the public in 2008 the World View gallery focused on Africa, with the title ‘Out of Africa’, showcasing our amazing African sculptures, masks, textiles and musical instruments. Now we are changing to ‘Voices of Asia’, which will be as much about Asia in Leeds as about Asia itself.

Myanmar chest

Myanmar chest

There are over 6,000 Asian items in the Leeds collections, which is the result of Leeds people travelling and working in Asia from the late 18th century onwards, as well as a more general appreciation of Asian art that led collectors to buy Asian art here in the UK. It’s been hard to choose from such a broad range, but some items are obvious star pieces, such as our earliest stone sculpture, a Gandhara Buddha from 3rd century AD, or the gilded chest from Myanmar, which is late 19th century.  We also want to signpost our most generous benefactors, for example the Frank Savery bequest, which gave Leeds its biggest Chinese ceramics collections.

Savery Song dynasty tea bowl

Savery Song dynasty tea bowl


Savery had a career in the Foreign Service, and spent much of his working life in the British Embassy in Prague, coming back to work in London during World War II. Most of Savery’s 300 plus Chinese ceramics were purchased in London, and he made the bequest to Temple Newsam because they had let him show some of his pieces there a while before his death in 1966. Last year an intern, Rane Pike, did a case display on Frank Savery for the Collector’s Gallery. In Voices of Asia Chinese ceramics will be just one of several types of luxury goods profiled in the Trade and War section, together with jade, tea, and ivory. One Savery piece, a Song dynasty tea bowl, will be on show, partly as a pointer to the other displays in the Collector’s Gallery and to the ‘China Pantry’ at Lotherton Hall. The ‘China Pantry’ is now just a small part of the space that was an Oriental Gallery for 30 years,  until late 2012, when it changed to focus more on the history of Lotherton Hall, both family and community history.

India Ivory Howdah

India Ivory Howdah

When we began working on Voices of Asia I did not know that the Oriental Gallery would go, but the timing was good, as it has made us look at all of the Asian collections properly. Over the last two years we also built up an Advisory Network of Leeds Asian community and University contacts to help with choosing the topics, and plan the programme for the new City Museum gallery. We have added to our contemporary collections and aim to include some significant loans over the planned five year life of the gallery. We have also been working with a film company, Digifish, to make an initial four films: Hinduism in Leeds,  Gods’ Dancing (symbolic gestures in Indian classical dance), Learn Bhangra, and Gold. All the films have been made with key local expert cooperation and input. In the first year our Faith in Focus section will be on Hinduism, in 2015 Islam, in 2016 Sikhism, in 2017 Buddhism.

Gandhara Buddha

Gandhara Buddha

Now that Leeds Asian culture is highly visible in the city, in terms of restaurants and food choices,  fashion and jewellery shops, World faiths and their religious buildings, and public performances of music, dance, and theatre, we need to look both outside and inside the museum building to make an exciting and relevant display.


Antonia Lovelace, Curator of World Cultures, Leeds Museums and Galleries

Antonia Lovelace, Curator of World Cultures at Leeds Museums and Galleries, will be answering your questions on World Cultures on Thursday 27 February 2014 between  2-4.30pm.

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 27 February, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry. We’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contact with us and let us know.



How do you select items for the Voices of Asia Gallery?

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

@curator_antonia says “We chose very broad themes over a year ago for Voices of Asia, and began reviewing the collections for each theme. For some topics, such as the different World faiths we had begun the review process way back! when I did a Festival watch project in Leeds in 1997-1998, and then worked with Gabrielle the community curator for faith in the city in 2010. For food we began the review during the food for thought project in 2011. and I started to think how many countries should be represented, and to match communities to collections and find the gaps. For music and dance we knew we needed to improve our local contacts over a long period, and now it’s great that the current intern working with me, Seetal Gahir, is involved with South Asian Arts UK, and is a dancer and musician herself. See her playing an Afghan Rabat on a tweet I. Did yesterday at @curator_antonia.”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

You mentioned that you have an extensive collection and will obviously not have the opportunity to show all of your items in the physical exhibition. Do you have any plans to exhibit the remaining collection online at all?

Mike Linstead February 27th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Curator_antonia says “Hi Mike Yes, the Leeds museums collections web pages are being relaunched shortly so the come directly off our main website. groups of collections are queuing to get uploaded and one of these will be first the details of all the objects in voices of Asia! and then groups from the reserve collections! which are kept at the Leeds museum discovery centre”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Hi Antonia, what’s your personal favourite object from the collection?

Katy February 27th, 2014 at 3:29 pm

@Curator_Antonia says ” this is the Krishna statue we have bought from Leeds Hindu mandir. our first faith in focus is Hinduism? we got funding from the V&A”
Regional collections support fund for the purchase

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:32 pm

How do you decide which countries and communities should be represented when designing galleries?

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:39 pm

@curator_antonia says “The large Krishna is now one of my favourites and I was able to go to Krishna’s birthplace and buy a flue from there for the statue to hold and play”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:50 pm

@curator_antonia says “we chose the countries to represent and to reflect both those whose communities are now here in Leeds, eg India, Pakistan, China, and those well represented in the collections, such as Japan. But with more on the former.”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:52 pm

what’s the story behind the Myanmar chest?

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 3:57 pm

@Curator_Antonia records #Bhangra film whilst answering Qs on world cultures! #mdyask

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 4:02 pm

@curator antonis says “The myanmar chest was donated to the Redhouse Musem in Christchurch in the 1960s loaned to Leeds with the rest of their world cultures in1985, and transferred in 2007. Someone in Guildford donated it to Christchurch so it is well travelled. Leeds has taken in several dispersed collections like this. but now the emphasis is much more on collections with a Yorkshire link.”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 4:07 pm

When does the Voice of Asia gallery open?

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 4:15 pm

@curator_antonia says “although we have a stringed instrument from Afghanistan we do not have any of the well known drums and strings from India. following discussion we are going to have a dhol drum for children to play in the gallery! rather than tabla drum pair? Inder is doing the film lesson so players will be able to learn from him in the space. We will buy both dhol drum for the interactive and a tabla pair, and a sitar for the displays.”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Voices of Asia opens on 18 April this year. Just 7 weeks to go!

Antonia lovelace February 27th, 2014 at 4:19 pm

@Curator_Antonia discusses musical Instruments as part of new gallery

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Love the India Ivory Howdah image- does that have a story?

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 4:51 pm

@curator_antonia says “Re the Indian elephant and howd ah this is from Leeds’ decorative art collections. It’s late 19th century souvenir work made for Europeans, probably in Murshidabad, and shows how a ruler or rich courtier would have travelled.
You can take rides like this at Ajmer the hill fort north of Jaipur as a tourist now”

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 5:04 pm

@Curator_Antonia says -film-maker Paul @Digifish discusses details -filming #drumming lesson for @LeedsMuseums

Gillian Waters February 27th, 2014 at 5:12 pm

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