Sarah WordenBy Sarah Worden, Senior Curator, African Collections

Supported by an Art Fund Jonathan Ruffer curatorial award and National Museums Scotland, this April I returned to Blantyre in Malawi to continue work on a collecting and research project for the World Cultures African collections, working with Emmanuel Mwale from Museums of Malawi  (MoM).  The fieldwork had two strands: to collect the Malawian cloth known as chitenje (pl. kitenje), for the museum and to gain a greater understanding of the cultural significance of this cloth in Malawi today.

A chitenje is a length of patterned cotton cloth worn around the waist as a wrapper by many women every day in Malawi. Whilst this cloth is produced in a wide range of patterns and colours, my focus was on a range of cloths commissioned by the political parties and churches, which is distributed free (political) and  sold to the public (church), and worn as an expression of support and unity.

Kitenje

Kitenje.

Political cloth

There is a high level of interest in national politics amongst the general public in Malawi. With the General Election planned for 20 May 2014, there was significant activity in the run up to the election with rallies, campaigns and newspaper, television and radio coverage from all the main political parties in Malawi. Political cloth is distributed during campaign rallies as an incentive for party support.

Meetings at political party headquarters in Blantyre were arranged for all the main parties who will be contesting the election: People’s Party (PP), who are currently head of government; People’s Progressive Movement (PPM); Malawi Congress Party (MCP); Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF). One of the highlights was an invitation to the Malawi Congress Party (Southern Party) headquarters in Blantyre to record the local women’s groups dancing and singing competition, to decide who would be representing the party at the election campaign launch in the capital Lilongwe. We collected donations of cloth from all the above.

Malawi Congress Party female dance groups practise for campaign rally performance (3 April 2014)

Malawi Congress Party female dance groups practise for campaign rally performance, 3 April 2014.

Church cloth

In Malawi a very high proportion of the population regularly attend church and a large range of cloths are commissioned by the churches. These can range from celebrations for the inauguration of a new church building to commemorating a saint’s day; from new appointments of the clergy to annual church festivals including gospel singing. These are sold to members of the church to generate income for church funds.

During meetings and visits to a number of the local churches including Blantyre Synod Church Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP); Seventh Day Adventist Church, Soche; Anglican Church Diocese Headquarters and Catholic Cathedral in nearby Limbe, it was clear that the church women are very active in the design of the cloths and emphasised the central role of church cloth in the expression of women’s community identity. This was very evident from the groups of women seen about, wearing the same designs, clearly and proudly identifying them with their local church.

A group of women in Blantyre town centre wearing different cloths of the Evangelical Church of Malawi, 1 April 2014

A group of women in Blantyre town centre wearing different cloths of the Evangelical Church of Malawi, 1 April 2014.

Production

The most challenging element of the fieldwork plan, and one I most wanted to achieve, was organising an appointment to meet with the designers of these cloths, which are produced at the DWS Mapeto factory in Blantyre. After several attempts, a brief thirty minute visit was agreed, limited due to the high work load of the design studio and timed to the minute!

However, the visit resulted in an extremely valuable overview of the process of design from original customer’s sketch to finished full scale design, which is then passed to the machine engravers to produce the design plates for printing. A particular highlight was a quick look through the design catalogues which document each new numbered design. The designers gave us insights into the difference in working practice pre and post computer technology. This radically altered the design process and the number of staff in the office, which dropped from twenty to just four.

A page of the cloth design catalogue, each pattern given a unique design number, at DWS Mapeto Factory, Blantyre, 4 April 2014

A page of the cloth design catalogue, each pattern given a unique design number, at DWS Mapeto Factory, Blantyre, 4 April 2014.

Fashion Design and Chitenje

The church and political cloth are sub-sets of the more decorative and widely used multi-coloured kitenje made and worn in Malawi. Whilst most are worn as a wrapper or tailored into a skirt and blouse outfit, they have also provided inspiration for Malawian fashion designers with an eye for the individual.

I read about Eva Gertrude Kapanda in an online newspaper article and went in search to talk to her about how the chitenje cloths inspired her work. I located her in her small studio shop premises in Blantyre, which is bursting with creations, from original one-off dress designs to bags, shoes and earrings from the second-hand European clothing market in Blantyre, which Eva reinvents or recycles by covering with brightly patterned chitenje.  Like others I met she was very interested and enthusiastic to hear about this research.  This was a great ending to a fascinating visit and I returned to National Museums Scotland with a number of originals from her studio to add a further contemporary dimension to the study and to the museum collection.

Eva Gertrude Kapanda chitenje designs, Blantyre, April 2014

Eva Gertrude Kapanda chitenje designs, Blantyre, April 2014.

A guest post by Lisa Edwards, Gallery 37, Impact Arts

Gallery 37 is Impact Arts‘ creative arts programme that celebrates young people and their achievements. Each year Gallery 37 runs during the summer holidays and culminates in a performance as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A presentation and exhibition takes place in the  Auditorium and Event Space, Learning Centre, Level 2, National Museum of Scotland on Friday 8 August at 1pm. Find out more here.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

This is Impact Arts’ third year of collaboration with National Museums Scotland. It is also, incidentally, the company’s twentieth anniversary, which we are quite excited about. We run Gallery 37, a creative arts programme which encourages young people to learn new skills and develop existing ones.  For those at risk of disengaging with mainstream education, the programme aims to support them back into education or positive engagement by building confidence, raising self-esteem, encouraging team-work and providing one-to-one support. This year’s project has so far seen almost 60 young people, aged between 14 and 19, pass through National Museum of Scotland’s doors. Some remain with us for a few days; however the majority are full time participants – four days a week for four weeks. It is a big commitment to make during the summer holidays, but clearly one that grabs the imagination.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

This year we are offering workshops in animation, visual art, music and performance. We are now at the half way stage. In the first week we offered taster workshops so that our participants could select the group that best suited their interests and ambitions. This led on to establishing discreet groups and building a strong dynamic. We also began the process of group collaboration to ensure that everyone could feel part of a larger project. In week two we moved on to skills development and encouraging creativity. We are now beginning to create material which will feature in our final event. So, what is it all about?

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

As in past projects the main idea is to draw inspiration from the magnificent surroundings of the Museum and its various galleries and exhibits. Tutors have set their groups tasks which involve them in museum tours. In a variety of ways they are challenged to observe and imagine the world, culture and lives of the peoples showcased across the galleries. What can these exhibits tell us about our past and how do curators go about informing and engaging their audience? From this approach the theme for 2014 emerged.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

We asked our participants to consider what life in Edinburgh 2014 would look like to people in the future – one thousand years in the future to be precise. What would remain of our contemporary city? What would be exhibited and what would it tell a future generation about the world in which we live today? What stories would be told? How would we be valued and judged? What would be our remembered achievements and failures? Effectively, they are invited to cast themselves in the role of a curator. To select material and to fashion the tools that will enable them to create a coherent exhibition. A big task, but we like to aim high and so do our young artists.

The fruits of their labours will be showcased in the auditorium and event suite on Friday 8 August at 1 pm. We look forward to seeing you there.

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A guest post by Norm Webster, Flight Display Director for Scotland’s National Airshow at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune that took place on Saturday 26 July 2014.

Take a look at some of the fantastic images on the air display and on the ground activity that were taken of Scotland’s National Airshow in our Flickr Group and check back on the Airshow here for announcements of our 2015 show.

Once again I’ve got to my final Airshow blog  post without losing too much hair or going noticeably greyer (not possible, I hear people say).

From an organiser’s point of view, the flying display went extremely well As you may have noticed, I had to substitute the T6 Texan for the Skyraider at very short notice due to serviceability issues, and the Bronco had problems starting so missed his first slot . . . but other than that, and a small re-programming issue later in the afternoon, the display ‘ran on rails’, as they say.

OV 10 Bronco at Scotland's National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 © Tom Sunley

OV 10 Bronco at Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 © Tom Sunley

We were certainly lucky with the weather this year, and I do hope that nobody is suffering from a lack of sunscreen.  It was certainly a tad tropical in the control cabin, surrounded by all that glass.

Avro Lancaster from RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Scotland's National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014. © Spencer Harbar

Avro Lancaster from RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014. © Spencer Harbar Photography

Highlights for me were the Lancaster, which looked and sounded magnificent as it flew down the display line belly on to the crowd, and the Bronco/T6 flypasts.  The RAF Red Arrows were their usual impeccable selves and, with Red 10 providing the commentary, made up a fantastic first half of the display.

Trying out the RAF Red Arrows Hawkjet at Scotland's National Airshow on 26 July 2014.

Trying out the RAF Red Arrows Hawkjet at Scotland’s National Airshow on 26 July 2014.

The Breitling Wingwalkers were as popular as ever, and having them on site early in the day to meet the audience and sign pictures and prints was a great bonus.  Their display was the usual elegant and spectacular affair, providing us with our own private fog bank – their smoke took a while to clear and resulted in a worried query from on high asking if we were going to lose the rest of the display due to the fog!

Meeting the Breitling Wingwalkers

Meeting the Breitling Wingwalkers

The Typhoon provided a fitting finale, and the sight of the reheat glowing through the cloud as the aircraft spiralled up to 10,000ft will stay as a lasting memory of Airshow 2014. So, that’s it for another year, at least until we start planning again in September!  The event just seems to go from strength to strength and it’s a pleasure to work with everyone.  So it just remains for me to say thank you to you all for reading my scribbles over the past few months, and to remind you that we’ll be back next year for, hopefully, an at least equally-successful Scottish National Airshow 2015.

Norm Webster

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A guest post by Norm Webster, Flight Display Director for Scotland’s National Airshow at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune that took place on Saturday 26 July 2014.

Take a look at some of the fantastic images on the air display and on the ground activity that were taken of Scotland’s National Airshow in our Flickr Group and check back on the Airshow here for announcements of our 2015 show.

There’s only a few days to go to the Scotland’s National Airshow and I’m feeling quite relaxed – I wonder what I’m missing?

Six year old Mia looks forward to the arrival of the RAF Red Arrows at Scotland’s National Airshow on Sat 26 July © Phil Wilkinson

Six year old Mia looks forward to the arrival of the RAF Red Arrows at Scotland’s National Airshow on Sat 26 July © Phil Wilkinson

That’s a regular feeling for display organisers. When everything seems to be going well and all your plans are working you begin to worry that you’ve missed something, or there’s a large alligator waiting in the wings to take a bite out of you.

American Alligator in Florida, USA.

American Alligator in Florida, USA.

As it is, I’ve checked, double checked and triple checked, and everything that I personally can do to make the day a success has been done (I think!). The display is planned down to the last minute, the Edinburgh airport and Archerfield airstrip plans are done and work (I hope!) and the display team plan is written and distributed to my team.

The Breitling WIngwalker's Boeing Stearman aircraft at Archerfield ready for Scotland's National Airshow in 2013.

The Breitling WIngwalker’s Boeing Stearman aircraft at Archerfield ready for Scotland’s National Airshow in 2013.

This year, visitors to the Airshow will have the chance to get up close to some helicopters: the OH6 Huey and Wasp, which will be parked in the show ground; and the Royal Navy’s Sea King and RAF Red Arrow’s Squirrel helicopters will be landing on the day. I am confident that Scotland’s National Airshow will be a great success.

OH6 Huey Helicopter arriving at Scotland’s National Airshow in 2013 © Thomas Sunley

Anyway, that’s my musings today – I’ve not got a great deal to say because just about everything is done. I’ll be wending my way up the M6 next Thursday full of the joys of spring and ready for my favourite airshow of the year. I’ll write again when it’s all over.

See you at East Fortune,

Norm Webster

By Eileen Budd, Exhibitions and Design

Saskia de Brauw is a leading international model and artist, born in the Netherlands of Dutch and Scottish parentage.  Saskia’s artwork incorporates elements of photography and performance art as well as text and graphics.  The exhibition we were installing, The Accidental Fold is a collection of 21 prints, hung intermittently throughout the Sculpture Gallery on Level 5 of National Museum of Scotland.  The prints are photographs of a variety of found objects printed onto cotton, tissue and rice papers.  These found objects vary from locks of hair and bird feathers to detergent bottles and broken mirrors.

Installing the images.

Stuart on the genie lift measuring for wire placement.

The 1-3m long prints are layered in some sections and hang alone in others, each piece reacting to one of the classical pieces of sculpture which sit alongside as part of our permanent display. The work sets up a lovely juxtaposition between our sculpture collection and her artwork.  Solid stone, marble and bronze sculptures versus the butterfly wing delicate and ghostlike images.

Exhibition Officer Sarah Teale in the exhibition

Sarah, vigilantly invigilating!

Looking at the work in situ now, peacefully hanging in mid-air, so fragile they look as though they’re being held up by sunlight, it’s hard to imagine just how intense it was to get them up there.

Installing them was a real challenge, partly because of the height issues we faced in fixing these prints to the roof beams five floors above the Grand Gallery and partly because of how delicate the prints were. Negotiating permanent display cases with a large gene lift, a set of ladders and 21 sheets of easy-to-tear three metre-long sheets of tissue paper meant that moving slowly and precisely was the order of the three days which followed.

Stevie and Stuart, our Exhibition Technicians, did an amazing job, first fixing the wire along the beams to hang the prints from and then the continuous climb up and down ladders or yo-yoing up and down in the genie lift.  Thankfully our intrepid heroes do not suffer from a fear of heights!

Stevie and Stuart hanging the artwork

Attaching rings to the wire: Stevie, Stuart and Saskia.

We made sure to stick to very strict regulations about working at height and had to allow the correct distance from the balcony’s edge at all times. As intense, physically exhausting and challenging exhibition installations can be, it is also tremendous fun.  Saskia was great to work with and Stuart was particularly impressed to find out she had met his hero, David Bowie.  Saskia was equally impressed with our Elvis impressions and impromptu Scottish folk song renditions.

Ready for anything!

Team Alpha!

I would encourage you to go and experience walking among the artworks and as you gaze upon the giant image of a discarded orange peel, think that there can be beauty in the ordinary and there’s a real optimism in that.  Saskia’s work allows us to take a second look at something, to see it from a different perspective. Just as objects, seen in their true light.

The finished exhibition

The finished exhibition in the Sculpture gallery.

We are proud to be hosting Saskia de Brauw’s exhibition The Accidental Fold in partnership with the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival.  The exhibition is in the National Museum of Scotland’s Sculpture Gallery on Level 5 until Monday 28 July . Find out more on Saskia’s blog.

Jo Sohn-RethelBy Jo Sohn-Rethel, Project Co-ordinator, Next of Kin

The Next of Kin touring project centres on revealing the personal experiences of Scottish families during the First World War as a way of commemorating the centenary of the conflict. Through the personal effects of the servicemen and women passed on to their families and down through generations, the exhibition provides unique insights into their poignant stories of separation and sacrifice. After the exhibition closes at the National War Museum next year, the display will travel to nine museums across Scotland and the objects from National Museums Scotland collections will be joined by artefacts and people associated with the local areas of each venue. Along with the object case displays, these stories will be incorporated into a digital interactive on display and community groups will create their own responses to the topic through an object handling box.

Embroidered postcard sent by Private George Buchanan to his sister

Embroidered postcard sent by Private George Buchanan to his sister.

As coordinator of the project, my first few weeks or so involved helping the team to prepare graphics and audio-visual content for installation at the War Museum. Much time was spent editing down original newsreel footage acquired from Imperial War Museum collections which are being shown in a recreated wartime cinema room. The aim is to convey how families would have found out about the experiences of their loved ones on the fighting fronts, albeit through carefully selected footage such as soldiers from the Black Watch regiment at a sports day and ‘the wonderful organisation of the Royal Army Medical Corps’.

Still from 'The Wonderful Organisation of the R.A.M.C.' film, produced by the War Office, 1916, IWM 133, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

Still from ‘The Wonderful Organisation of the R.A.M.C.’ film, produced by the War Office, 1916, IWM 133, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum.

Another immersive audio visual element in the exhibition is a soundscape of voices taken from letter correspondence between family members and diary entries on display. Original archive artefacts make up nearly half of the objects on display, including a poignant postcard sent by Private William Dick to his wife, a letter from a German soldier to the family of Private James Scouller describing their son’s last moments on the battlefield, and a letter from a Presbyterian Chaplain informing Mrs Buchanan of her son Private George Buchanan’s death. Recordings of actors (and museum staff!) reading out this archive material helps to evoke the personalities and emotions of the protagonists in the stories.

You can hear the stories here:

Family photograph of Private George Buchanan in uniform

Family photograph of Private George Buchanan in uniform.

Touring the exhibition to museums around Scotland presents other opportunities to incorporate family stories into object interpretation. Many partner museums are actively acquiring World War One related objects donated or loaned by local people who have developed a keen interest in their wartime family history due to the Centenary. Consulting these people about the personal value of these objects as tools for learning about and remembering their relatives will be an important way of discovering the continuing significance and impact of the conflict in Scottish families’ lives. Furthermore, museum staff are keen on carrying out co-curation activities with local community groups to collect perspectives of community groups to existing artefacts in the collection. The key challenge will be devising ways of communicating these contemporary interpretations in physical and digital displays alongside the original personal accounts of troops and families during the war.

Find out more about the touring exhibition here.

A guest post by Lydia Beadle (A.K.A Squid), Breitling Wingwalkers’ newest recruit appearing at Scotland’s National Airshow at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune on Saturday 26 July 2014. Fellow wingwalkers have written blog posts for us in previous years: read what Danielle and Freya had to say.

Scotland’s National Airshow is a spectacular day out for all the family. Aircraft old and new take to the skies for an afternoon of breathtaking aerial displays , including the return of the Red Arrows to East Fortune. Back on the ground you can meet the pilots and explore our hangars at National Museum of Flight. 

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Book tickets online here

I developed a need for speed and adrenaline at an early age, probably because I did lots of horse riding as a child.  When I heard about the Breitling Wingwalkers vacancy, I jumped at the chance. Fulfilling my need for speed while creating beautiful displays is something I’ve always dreamed of!

The Breilting Wingwalkers aerobatic display team take to the skies at Scotland's National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 at East Fortune © Tokunaga

The Breilting Wingwalkers aerobatic display team take to the skies at Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 at East Fortune © Tokunaga

I was thrilled to get started. I have been amazed at how much work is involved in looking elegant on the plane whilst fighting against 160mph winds! My first flight was in pouring rain and strong winds, but even that didn’t put me off. I had grown up learning to take on any challenges given to me and the thrill of plummeting during the loop made me feel free as a kite. With the extensive worldwide travel and the support of an incredibly close team, being a Breitling Wingwalker is a certainly a dream come true!

Lydia Beadle, Breightling Wingwalker will take part in Scotland's National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune © Richard Foord

Lydia Beadle, Breightling Wingwalker will take part in Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune © Richard Foord

One of my favourite display moves is the Mirror, which is when I hang upside down on the inverted plane while reaching for the hands of the wingwalker flying below me. Seeing a girl below you in flight is very surreal and always leaves me laughing at how incredible it is!  Being up in the sky on the beautiful Boeing Stearman aircraft is such an honour.  I feel like a bird in the sky, so free and yet safe

The Breilting Wingwalkers aerobatic display team take to the skies at Scotland#s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 at East Fortune © Tokunaga

The Breilting Wingwalkers aerobatic display team take to the skies at Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 at East Fortune © Tokunaga

I have been in five European shows so far, and they have all left me on a high. I keep a journal for each show I perform in, so that I can remember how amazing each moment was. I’m  looking forward to coming to East Fortune for Scotland’s National Airshow.  Being a natural redhead and having family from Scotland, it will be lovely to come back and embrace my roots once more, especially because this time I’ll be enjoying a different view!

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