Feeding history; the politics of food: new exhibition at the British Museum (Claire Messenger)

Written by Claire Messenger, International Training Programme Manager

Over the years many of our ITP fellows have worked on a single object exhibition proposal during their participation on the International Training Programme.  The project has had various formats with fellows working alone, in partnership, with objects from their own countries and cultures or with objects and themes completely new to them.  But whatever form the project has taken the results have always been amazing and have clearly demonstrated the creativity, imagination and hard work our fellows put in.

Room 3 – the Asahi Shimbun Displays – has often been the inspiration for many of our ITP exhibition project proposals and recently the British Museum has opened a new show in that space, Feeding history; the politics of food.


The show looks at the relationship between food, power and control placing ancient objects alongside contemporary works with the aim to explore the issues surrounding the production and control of food resources throughout human history.

The Museum says “If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of farming — which were about 10,000 years ago — and what impact it had on society, this display offers fascinating insights. Farming led to the development of land ownership, settlements and eventually cities and empires — without objects like the humble plough it would not have been possible to build such ancient wonders as the pyramids. However, at the same time farming greatly increased inequality between a wealthy minority who owned the land and an impoverished majority who worked it. This inequality remains with us today, where more than a third of the Earth’s land is used for growing crops or raising livestock and yet one in nine people go hungry. As the history of agriculture demonstrates, the challenges of feeding the world are not only technical but closely connected to issues of power, politics, and economics.”

The exhibition is a perfect example of how ancient objects can be used to tell a contemporary story and engage with a new audience.