Last week, I visited Manchester Museum’s Archery collection along with Enkhbold Togmidshiirev (Artist), Paulette Brien (Curator and Director of International3 Gallery) guided by Stephen Terence Welsh, Curator of Living Cultures and Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes.
Wendy Hodkinson, Honorary Curator of Archery kindly agreed to welcome us and show the selection of bows and arrows originated from Mongolia. The Archery Collection of the Manchester Museum consists of some 4000 objects including bows and arrows from all over the world. This vast collection is preserved and kept inside specially made stacks. It was such a great experience to be able to see and touch those Mongolian bows and arrows. Although, they are old, dating back to 17 Century, they had been preserved very well by the Museum. http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/collection/archery/
T. Tsegmid and Wendy Hodkinson. Photograph by Paulette Brien, Sep 2011
The phrase ‘living cultures’ is an interesting one. It not only refers to present but has many similarities to current contemporary art practice and what it tries to achieve by exploring ‘the now’, what surrounds us and what makes us who we are. Is it possible to preserve ‘living cultures’? How does a museum setting supports this cause? What does preserving those objects of necessities, rituals, cultures means to public? These questions have been raised during our discussion with Stephen T. Welsh, Curator of Living Cultures and the potential change in how Museums see their existing roles as guardians of selected objects. Please check out Stephen’s post about this visit. For example, the bows and arrows from Mongolia looked old, authentic and perfect museum objects but its versions are still used in Mongolia. Surely, people may not hunt using bows and arrows nowadays but the archery is one of the three manly national games of Mongolia and we have professional archers competing at regional and national levels.
As an art student back in Mongolia, I painted hundreds of horsemen drawing bows and arrows, hunting for animals or battling each other. Then, I painted archers because I was expected to portray the life of 13 Century Mongolia using Mongolian traditional painting Mongol Zurag. I always questioned why I have to portray lives of Mongols existed some 800 years ago? There is very little fact about their actual lives except limited historical manuscripts, paintings and drawings which students used to study and pass the photocopies of them to each other. Mostly, we used to go by a book (in Mongolian Cyrillic), which was a transcription of an old manuscript titled The Secret History of Mongols (mong. Монголын Нууц Товчоо).
I haven’t painted for a long time but maybe it is time for me to go back to painting. Maybe this visit to the Museum was a sign? Personally, I was just very surprised to find such a big collection of original bows and arrows at the Manchester Museum. If I am going to depict those objects in a contemporary painting, I would want to put emphasis on ‘living cultures’ aspect of those Mongolian arrows and bows.
Wendy Hodkinson, Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, Tsendpurev Tsegmid and Stephen T. Welsh. Photograph by Paulette Brien, Sep 2011.
Lastly, I would like to thank Paulette Brien, Anna Bunney, Stephen T. Welsh and Wendy Hodkinson for their kind support and welcome.
Artist, Curator, Doctoral Candidate
Leeds Metropolitan University