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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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