Museums in Quarantine – Connecting Digitally Through Arts and Culture

Each year since 2014, museums across the world have collaborated in a shared initiative to celebrate their treasures with the public in an online festival known as ‘MuseumWeek.’

MuseumWeek has now grown to include over 60,000 participants from 100+ countries. According to its website, it has become the first virtual, worldwide cultural event on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, and VKontakte.

Between 11 May- 17 May this year, many of your much-loved museums have been participating via their social media, at a time when it is vital to connect.

Technology has often had a strange tension between being a blessing and a curse. It has blessed people through the dissemination of information and connecting people in ways that otherwise would not be possible. However, it has also caused uncertainty, where the threat of technology consuming life has pervaded literature and the arts, from dystopian writers such as George Orwell and HG Wells to science fiction films like, but not limited to, Blade Runner (1982) and 2049, Terminator, RoboCop, and Alita: Battle Angel. As we begin to rely increasingly on technology, it is inevitable that we refer to visionaries who have imagined a future that has been absorbed by technology, either willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, for good or bad. I took a while to join any form of social media and was only persuaded to do so in University, as a way to keep in touch.

There is also the issue of trust in images that pervade modern culture, such as the utilization of Photoshop, where images can so easily be manipulated and the lines between fact and fiction blurred. This is a fascinating issue that has been explored in Dr, James Fox’s The Age of The Image, a series that I would recommend watching on BBC iPlayer.

The idea of whether a happy equilibrium could be met between humanity and technology has become heightened in these recent extraordinary times, where imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement due to Covid-19 has meant people have turned more to social media as a way to connect to others, to culture, the natural world, or whatever they miss from their normal routine.

As an artist, I spend much of my time in my studio creating, and I have seen other artists argue that they have been in lockdown ever since they can remember. However, I also feel acutely the lack of being able to freely move without restriction. I think however that often, and not to become too philosophical, that even as prisoners of war can attest, freedom ultimately lies in your mind.

Times of hardship have often proven to activate the imagination and creativity, reinspiring people to see their surroundings in a whole new light, bringing forth a mental and even spiritual transformation.

Rather than being overcome by inertia, those working at these places of culture have become even more resourceful during the lockdown. As James Fox rightly says, you can’t lockdown, or lock up the imagination. Throughout the lockdown, James has been sharing pieces of art on his Twitter account that he feels will help people come to terms with isolation. You can follow him @doctorjamesfox.

Since joining social media, I have enjoyed following my favourite museums on Instagram and Twitter, when I have not been able to attend in person. Museums such as The Wallace Collection, the V&A, the Louvre, the British Museum, The Museum of Natural History, The Science Museum, The Met, amongst so many others. I also enjoy following other art institutions such as Christie’s or National Trust properties like Waddesdon Manor, as, like the other museums I mentioned, they consistently share their most beloved treasures and stories in a way that engages the viewer and informs them, keeping their minds occupied and relieving boredom. You can even get involved with their accounts by participating in their interactive challenges, such as creating an artwork based on an item in their collection or reenacting a famous painting.

The willingness of the public to engage with these institutions online proves to me that time and again, arts and culture provide a vital means of education, inspiration, and entertainment at any period of time and are a way of understanding current experiences. By seeing stories from the past or how artists have translated their times, whether they have lived through war or peace, can often be a way of inspiring further generations on how to react in our times. Technology can never replace a loved one, but for those struggling with not being able to be physically close to those they love most, social media can be a form of comfort and can help reinforce gratitude and appreciation. Seeing through the eyes of a curator or artist can not only help relieve boredom, but also anxiety, bringing a sense of peace to the viewer.

Even when there is no lockdown, I would recommend following MuseumWeek’s account, or simply your favourite museums and art galleries on social media, either Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or if you are like me, a combination of all three.

Personally, I have enjoyed learning new things about The Wallace Collection, Christie’s, and The National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor, to name a few (a more extensive list is included at the end of this blog). All three actively invite the public to get involved with them through various activities and challenges.

Based in Manchester Square, London, The Wallace Collection is a cornucopia of eclectic and exquisite items housed within beautiful interiors, including armour, sculpture, furniture,  and paintings, collected by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace in the 18th and 19th centuries. My father and I had actually booked to attend a day’s conference on Indian, Iranian, and Ottoman arms and armour at the museum, which we look forward to attending when possible.


The Wallace Collection’s IG page. 

Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, one of my favourite National Trust properties, if not favourite (it bears a remarkable and convenient resemblance to my beloved uni, Royal Holloway), was founded by The Rothschild family of Jewish bankers, and is a beautiful French Renaissance house, with sumptuous interiors, an exciting sculpture trail, and a lovely history of supporting the local community.


Waddesdon Manor’s IG page.


Waddesdon Manor’s Twitter page, which has a different collection of stories to its other accounts.

Christie’s, located on Kings Street, St James’, also has a wonderful collection of treasures that vary in each auction, from ancient history to the present day.



Christie’s’ Instagram page.

I would always argue that we should never rely on technology and that physical relationships are always superior, however, technology has a surprising way of blessing us in ways that might not previously have been appreciated.

I follow a lot of accounts that focus on my interests (quite a few it seems!), such as history, the natural world, space science, wildlife, design, fashion, interiors, engineering, architecture, art, and even technology itself as a means of design. I honestly believe that you never stop learning and that you can learn from anything and anyone, whether online or offline; it is your attitude that determines whether it is beneficial to you or not.

I think having an appreciation of arts and culture encompasses a cross-section of so many other fields, such as history, fashion, etc and enriches people in such an important way, acting as a vital artery to society itself. It has even been proven to be effective as a form of art therapy for people facing loneliness, whether in lockdown or not, rates of suicide, etc and problems with mental health; feeling a connection to someone, whether you know them or not, whether online or offline, can be very important, and even more so at this time. Even accounts such as the National Geographic or NASA help you to transcend your physical limitations, transporting you to different places in an instant. I will gladly argue that you will find following these accounts very rewarding and enriching, even liberating, whether you are in lockdown or not.

I would also argue that following these places digitally encourages the viewer to want to visit their physical space, if at all possible, and to support them in the physical world. Let us not forget that social media is a free service, and if you can, please support them through a donation or even liking and following their page, as it is a way of showing your appreciation of those people curating such entertaining and educational pieces of content, letting them know that what they do is as valued as any other essential service or area of society.

The themes that MuseumWeek has already covered include #heroesMW, timely after the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and #CultureInQuarantineMW.

Today, on Wednesday 13 May, the theme is #togetherMW, which seems wholly appropriate for the current times.

We can look forward to Thursday’s #MuseumMomentsMW, where museums will recall memories, #climateMW on Friday for climate change (timely after Earth Day on 22 April), #technologyMW, to justify their digital presence, finishing with #dreamsMW.

I have included just a selection of my favourite arts and culture accounts to follow below, for both MuseumWeek and in general:

The Wallace Collection
Instagram – @wallacemuseum
Twitter – @wallacemuseum
Facebook – @wallacemuseum

Christie’s
Instagram – @christiesinc
Twitter – @ChristiesInc
Facebook – @Christies

Waddesdon Manor
Instagram – @waddesdonmanor_nt
Twitter – @WaddesdonManor
Facebook – @WaddesdonManor

The V&A
Instagram – @vamuseum
Twitter – @V_and_A
Facebook – @victoriaandalbertmuseum

Fitzwilliam Museum
Instagram – @fitzmuseum_uk
Twitter – @FitzMuseum_UK
Facebook – @fitzwilliammuseum

The Louvre
Instagram – @thelouvremuseum
Twitter – @MuseeLouvre
Facebook – @museedulouvre

The British Museum
Instagram – @britishmuseum
Twitter – @britishmuseum
Facebook – @britishmuseum

The Natural History Museum
Instagram – @natural_history_museum
Twitter – @NHM_London
Facebook – @naturalhistorymuseum

The Science Museum
Instagram – @sciencemuseum
Twitter – @sciencemuseum
Facebook – @sciencemuseumlondon

The Met
Instagram – @metmuseum
Twitter – @metmuseum
Facebook – @metmuseum

The American Museum of Natural History
Instagram – @amnh
Twitter – @AMNH
Facebook – @naturalhistory

MuseumWeek
Instagram – @museumweek
Twitter – @MuseumWeek
Facebook – @MuseumWeekOfficial

*Please note, all opinions are my own*

Panchi Sayargyi U Thu Kha, Centenary Art Exhibition – The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

ပန္းခ်ီဆရာၾကီး ဦးသုခ ႏွစ္ ၁၀၀ ျပည့္ ပန္းခ်ီျပပြဲ

I’m honoured to have been invited by my friend, internationally renowned Burmese artist Min Wae Aung, to join him in an art exhibition celebrating the centenary birth year of Saya U Thu Kha (1918-2007), a seminal figure in the arts movement in Myanmar and a teacher of Min Wae.

The exhibition, comprised of international artists, will take place at The Strand Hotel (Ballroom) in Yangon, from 13-15 November 2018.

My work has actually been held at Min Wae’s gallery, the New Treasure Art Gallery in Yangon since the beginning of August 2018 before it is exhibited at The Strand.

Thank you to Min Wae, who provided the biographical information and resources related to this article on Saya U Thu Kha.

SAYA U THU KHA

Born Muang Thu Kha on 11 November 1918, his family lived in the west end of Yangon and owned a food stall at Scott Market, now renamed Bo Gyoke Market. His parents, U Pu and Daw Mya Hnit had no artists among their ancestors but they were related to those involved in art; his mother was a niece of Daw Mya Shwe, a cousin of Daw Mya May, the wife of a commissioner who strongly supported the art movement and is known as the Mother of Myanmar art.

Whilst under British colonialism in 1910, nationalism and political awareness began to take root in Myanmar, propelling literature and the arts into the 1920s. Various national newspapers hired Myanmar illustrators, increasing public awareness of the art movement. After the country’s first strike, Daw Mya May and her husband U Hla Aung opened a Buddhist Middle school for boys on Pagoda Road in Yangon and one for girls on Canal Street; U Thu Kha attended his great aunt’s Buddhist Middle School for boys when he was of school age. Whilst studying, his growing interest in the arts could not be contained. He broke school rules during 6th grade by covering the school’s freshly painted latrine walls with his drawings which resulted in a harsh caning from his teacher that was so severe the school doctor was called and he spent the next three days to recover. Upon his return, he explained to the teacher that his passion for art compelled him to paint. Seemingly regretful, his teacher immediately wrote a note for Muang Thu Kha giving him permission to attend classes at the Burma Art Club and become a life member until 1928 without paying any fees. It seems this incident had unexpectedly opened a door to his future.

In pre-war years, Muang Thu Kha was the general secretary of the art club of the State High School for four years. He entered the annual competition for art, crafts and technology held at the Jubilee Hall in Shwedagon Pagoda Road, and won gold medals and prizes every year; he also exhibited in artist group shows sponsored by U Ba Nyan at the Burma Art Club. Aside from painting, he was a talented sportsman, playing football, basketball and boxing. His father’s uncle was a famous athlete of the time, U Ba Than (Sando).

He became a teacher in 1938, passing the examination held by the all Burma Education and Information Department. After independence in 1948, he became a member of the newly established Artists and Sculptors Union. He was the in-house illustrator of the English-language version of the New Times of Burma and the weekly Business Review in 1950. In 1952, he participated in an art exhibition held on the premises of the Rangoon Gazette Press on Bo Aung Kyaw Street (now the offices of Myanmar Times), at the Sarpay Beikhman Art Exhibition in 1959 and later at the annual art exhibition held at the Envoy Hall (now the Tatmadaw Hall) by the National Art and Sculpture Council.

In 1963 he was inaugurated as an instructor at the Yangon State School of Fine Arts, later becoming a principle until his retirement in 1984. He was known to be very patient, teaching his students basic skills and anatomy, emphasising their need to draw first in pencil before using colours. Whether they were good or bad, he treated his students as friends, often buying them tea, meals or a bus fare. In 1972, he studied block printing and mosaic in Germany and then toured Egypt. Whilst he was teaching at the SSFA Yangon, he was also taking classes at the Rangoon University Art Club. Until his death, he served as the patron of the Traditional Artists and Artisans association. In 1997 he was awarded an honorary professorship by the Department of Fine Arts.

When his student, Min Wae Aung, opened the New Treasure Art Gallery, U Thu Kha acted as patron, coming there to paint regularly until his very last days. After suffering a brain haemorrhage in 2000, he came three days a week to the gallery, painting every time he came.

Aside from painting, he wrote articles and books on art. One well received publication was his translated book ‘International Methods of Figure Drawing,’ complete with illustrations.

A popular teacher, his students had begun paying homage to him through an annual Homage ceremony to Elder Artists from 1978 until 2006, twenty nine years in total. Initially they went to his house but later changed the venue to the New Treasue Art Gallery after it was established.

Saya U Thu Kha is known to be one of two Burmese artists, the other Saya U Thein Han, to teach art well into their retirement years. Compelled by the desire to further the arts in Myanmar, both artists opened private classes after retiring from teaching.

Many of his students achieved fame, including Min Wae Aung, Thein Shwe Kyi, Win Thaw, Ngwe Kyi, Shwe Min Thar, Zaw Min and Aung Min Thein amongst others.

U Thu Kha passed away in 2007 at the age of 89 and is survived by his wife Daw Khin Ohn and their eleven children. Long may his legacy continue.

My contribution to the exhibition is a 1m oil painting on canvas board, entitled
‘Bluebell Woods’:

 

End Plastic Pollution – Earth Day, 22 April

‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for God founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.’ Psalm 24:1-2

Every 22nd of April, environmental revolutionists and conservationists worldwide gather in solidarity to help protect and restore the health of our natural environment.

Since it was officially recognised in 1970, one billion Earth Day supporters have petitioned world leaders, national governments and local legislations to combat the (often) human made issues that have afflicted our planet.

The event this year addresses a topic that is difficult to ignore: Plastic pollution. According to Earth Day Network, over 300 million tons of fossil fuel created plastic is sold each year and 90% is emptied in landfills or ends up as litter. Chemicals seep into the ocean and soil, severely damaging our environment, wildlife and our own health by contaminating the fish we eat or water we drink.

I chose to use my oil painting, ‘Night Waves,’ to illustrate Earth Day, as over 70% of the earth is made up of water, with 96% consisting of the ocean’s salt water and the rest of arctic ice, groundwater and fresh water. The oceans are similar to rainforests in their biodiversity, they also produce more than half of the world’s oxygen and absorb more than half of its carbon. It is a precious yet fragile natural resource.

Historically, there has not been much regard for the ocean as a place to protect, and waste disposal has been rife. Disturbing facts seem to get more and more prevalent in recent years in relation to this last frontier of exploration; it is estimated that 4.6 billion tons of plastic are poured into the ocean worldwide per annum, suffocating marine animals which cannot digest it and polluting the environment. According to the National Geographic, one garbage truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute.

Plastic is no longer the miracle storage packaging, as its very longevity makes it virtually indestructible and non biodegradable. It is estimated that it takes around 10,000 years for ordinary plastic bags to decompose. Did you know that 4.5 billion coffee cups so far have been found in the ocean and around 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, finding their way into the seaIt is estimated that over 100,000 sea mammals die each year from eating plastic.

Who didn’t feel upset at the sight of this sperm whale in Spain, who had been found washed up on shore having suffocated after eating 5 tons of plastic, fishing nets and garbage bags? Or the now famous image of a seahorse clutching onto a cotton bud in Indonesian waters?

The filmmakers of Blue Planet II said there was rarely a moment when they dived and didn’t encounter plastic in the sea. Alarmingly, we may also have been ingesting it in the form of microplastics, tiny beads of plastic that are found in many cosmetic products and when washed away down the sink find themselves in the ocean and into the bodies of sea creatures which we may be ultimately eating. In a recent study, over 83% of tap water samples worldwide was found to be polluted with microplastics.

The race to produce renewable alternatives has begun. DowDuPont scientists are revolutionising plastic bottles by creating a molecular chain that derives from cane sugar rather than petrochemicals. This sweet alternative is sustainable and will never run out, as chemist Paul Fagan says, bio-plastics are like returning to our past, where everything was made from plants. Engineer Toby McCartney is also pioneering a way of using recycled plastic instead of oil as a bidding agent in asphalt, creating longer-lasting roads and decreasing plastic waste. Scientists have also further improved a naturally occurring enzyme which can digest plastic; originally found in Japan, this enzyme can break down PET, the strong plastic most commonly used in bottles, in just a few days as opposed to hundreds of years.

Until a permanent solution has been found or a new plastic becomes commonplace, there are many quick solutions that can be adopted, such as investing in recyclable materials, refusing plastic cutlery, reusing bags or coffee cups. and using paper straws. A ban on microplastics in cosmetics has already been passed in the UK and cotton buds and plastic straws could be banned next year.

We all depend on a healthy ocean but currently only 2% of our seas are fully protectedYou can sign a government petition here to help end single-use plastics or make a personal pledge for Earth Day.

It’s time to save Nemo!