Cambridge residents curate new display at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Ten Cambridgeshire residents have chosen twenty objects from the permanent collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum to present a new display curated by local people, Tensions of Belonging: Connecting Cambridge, which will open on Wednesday 29th November.

Cambridge residents curate new display at the Fitzwilliam Museum

The display explores the tensions that exist today for people living in the city through works of art, from the divide between poverty and wealth, town and gown and living in the city centre as opposed to its outlying areas. The objects chosen also reflect global challenges, from climate change to issues of identity and a sense of belonging.

The Connecting Cambridge residents’ group was formed through existing relationships with Cambridge museums, where some worked as volunteers or community consultants. They began by interrogating the museum’s acquisitions policy with the intention of exploring what happened when more people are invited into the decision-making process, and how this leads to a more culturally relevant and diverse museum collection. These sessions sparked a research project with big aspirations, curating a new display that was pioneering in its relevance and accessibility, a major priority for the group.

Many members were able to add their own experience to their curation, having been involved with accessibility outreach programmes with Arthur Rank Hospice, Dementia Compass, early years education providers and the University of Cambridge Museum’s Community Panel.

They worked together as part of a collaborative research project behind the scenes with staff across the Fitzwilliam to unearth stories and objects with the intention to create a dynamic and creative display drawing on the museum’s collection of more than half a million artworks and objects. They set out with one question: ‘What would you do if you could choose what was on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum?’

Connecting Cambridge group member Jade said: ‘The Connections project feels like a welcome step by the Fitzwilliam to bring in community members to help break down the many barriers that can prevent people from accessing Cambridge's museums and art institutions.’

The exhibition will showcase a range of objects, each with their own story and each conveying a strong sense of identity, time and place. Some of the artworks tell a history of the city’s colleges and the museum itself, like the silver trowel that was used to lay the foundation stone of the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1837.

One group member, Rick, speaks about the process of discovering the artworks of Shawanda Corbett in the collection, a ceramic and performance artist whose work grapples with themes of belonging and differently abled bodies.

‘I chose two objects. Actually two objects chose me… Shawanda Corbett is not just a brilliantly creative person, she is not just any one thing. She is in every way remarkable and completely inspirational. She is a woman of colour, who, though now a working artist at Oxford University, began life in Mississippi, where she learnt to overcome the challenges of being born with no legs and one arm. She is a brilliant dancer, an incredibly accomplished producer of wheel thrown ceramics, and brings those two arts together to make the decorations on her ceramics. As she dances the ideas for the patterns on her ceramics enter her mind and later she transfers those ideas onto the ceramics themselves. She produces beautiful 2D, 3D and performance artworks and combines them in truly original ways.’
This research into the collection and its objects deeply resonated with Rick and his own life experience living with a life-limiting motor neurone condition. Rick reflects on the process of discovering Shawanda Corbett’s work: ‘It has been one of the most inspiring journeys I have ever travelled…’

The display will run until June in the Lower Marlay, gallery 26.

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