The British Museum explores the practice and expression of religious beliefs in the lives of individuals and communities around the world and through time with this exhibition entitled Living with gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond.
The exhibition considers that almost every culture in the world or in history has some form of religious beliefs. However, this worldwide phenomenon has many different practices and the exhibition displays objects from all around the world. The exhibition includes everyday objects relating to world faiths, traditional indigenous, archaeological and modern civil practices.
The exhibition begins with an object that provides evidence that even in the last Ice Age, there were people who worshipped the natural and the supernatural. The Lion Man is a 40,000-year-old, 31 centimetres tall sculpture made from mammoth tusk that has the head of a cave lion with a partly human body. The image is strange and mysterious and provides a link a world beyond the natural word. The Lion man is the oldest known representation of a being that does not exist in physical form but symbolises ideas about the supernatural.
Other highlights of the exhibition are a Mosque lamp from Aleppo, Syria, c. 1300–1340, Zoroastrian tiles from Gujarat India, 1990, Ibeji figures from Nigeria, probably early 20th century. From Tibet is 19th century Painted textile (thangka) with the wheel of life, a Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 1750s and a ‘Hundred Bird’ coat from China, 1950–1990.
One of the largest objects is a large wooden model of a juggernaut for bringing deities out of a temple into the community. India, 18th century.
Unfortunately, belief are often associated with conflict and a Japanese notice board rewarding information about Christians from 1682 illustrates how authorities in Japan turned against Christianity, having initially allowed conversions by Jesuit missionaries.
Belief is not always associated with gods, posters relating to Soviet scientific atheism, and a Chinese badge celebrating ‘Mao’’ are examples of 20th-century political veneration.
This interesting exhibition indicates that belief is a key aspect of human behaviour and plays an important part in all human societies. Although there is great variation in what is believed, human beings tend to express belief in powerful and mystical ideas that are used to define cultural identities and strengthen social bonds.
The British Museum has taken a new, experiential and innovative approach to the design of this exhibition. It incorporates the sounds, music and silence associated with religious practice, achieved with atmospheric lighting effects.
The exhibition is part of the fourth collaborative project between the British Museum, the BBC and Penguin Books. It builds on a Radio 4 series of 30 daily programmes over six weeks presented by former Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor.
Video Review available here
Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the British Museum website here
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