Eye-opening, enriching experience (Shahira Banu, Singapore, ITP 2022)

Written by Shahira Banu, Student, MA History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS (Singapore, ITP 2022)

My name is Shahira Banu and I am a student at SOAS, University of London. I am doing my Masters in History of Art and Archaeology. Prior to my MA at SOAS, I was reading History at the undergraduate level back home in Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University. It was during my first year as an undergraduate that I learned more about the world of Art History and that inspired my goals to be involved more directly with arts, cultural heritage and museums. My interest in Art History grew during my undergraduate years, motivating me to pursue an MA in History of Art and Archaeology. I was immensely fortunate to be given the chance to study at SOAS with the help of the Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme (SAAAP, SOAS). I am now also blessed with the opportunity to learn through the British Museum’s International Training Programme, which I am very grateful for.

I thoroughly enjoy going to museums and exhibitions, and London definitely has a massive variety I enjoy visiting. Thanks to the ITP, I have been learning an incredible amount about the work that goes on behind what meets the eye. I have enjoyed museums like the British Museum as a visitor but to understand the mechanics that go behind conceptualising, executing, interpreting, reviewing and evaluating all that occurs within the museum space has been eye-opening. If I were to write all that I have learned the past few days through the Programme, the generous sharing of knowledge and visits organised by the ITP team- this blog post might be longer than my Masters Dissertation and that was 10,000 words! That’s how enriching this experience has been. Besides learning about the mechanisms, I have learned about the various portfolios within the arts and heritage sector through the various speakers and of course, the wonderful ITP fellows!

View along the river in Norwich

Today on the 2nd of October, it was a warm Sunday as the ITP fellows set off to various destinations around the UK to spend the week with their respective partner institutions. I will be spending the week at Norwich along with Kezia Permata (ITP Fellow 2022, Indonesia). It is a place I do not know much about so I am excited! The lovely weather and sights in Norwich have definitely been a wonderful start for the week with Norfolk Museums Service, the partner museum I have the chance to learn from. Norwich is quiet and has a different set of charms compared to London. I enjoyed walking around the city briefly and taking in the sights.

I also passed by the Norwich Castle and East Gallery, which was closed as it is a Sunday. However, I saw the poster for this exhibition that had just opened at the Gallery on the 1st of October. Lucky for us, a curator led tour by Rosy Gray is on the schedule for the 5th of October.

I am looking forward to knowing more about the stories of this city and learning from the Norfolk Museum Services this week.

Though we did not go to the British Museum today, I would like to briefly mention an exhibition and object at the museum that fascinates me. It is the current Room 3 exhibition Shattered Glass of Beirut. We had a session on the 1st of October with Dr Zeina Klink-Hoppe and Dr Duygu Çamurcuoğlu, where we learned about the blast that happened on the 4th of August 2020 in Beirut.

Shattered glass of Beirut exhibition at the British Museum

Image of the 8 vessels that were conserved and displayed in Room 3.

Closeup image of one of the 8 vessels on display

This vessel in particular was something I could not stop looking at. The way the mouth of the vessel has been conserved and how the light gleams through the vessel was very captivating. The importance of collaboration, conservation of cultural heritage, histories and understanding current events through exhibition spaces is what I gained greater understanding on during this session.

A fellow ITP Colleague I would like to introduce is Tatevik Saroyan. Tatevik is from Armenia and is the Head of the PR department at the Matenadaran Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, named after Mesrop Mashtots. Additionally, she is also included on the educational and exhibition organisers team. Furthermore, she is also a PhD student. Her research is on coffee and how it intertwines with Armenians, history and everyday life. That research is something I hope to read with a cup of coffee in hand one day.

I look forward to learning from the experience at the partner institute and the ITP fellows in the upcoming days!