Even though London is often hailed as one of the most expensive cities to live in, at least most museums are free here. I have been to a few of them as of so far but I have not seen everything that they offer yet. They definitely warrant a revisit sometime in the near future. For now, I will just introduce the museums based on what I have seen:
1. Victoria and Albert Museum
I love the name of the museum as it pays tribute to one of the greatest love story that I have heard about the British royal family. Queen Victoria was a lonely child who was isolated in Kensington Palace by her mother. She grew up, met Albert, fell in love with and married him. After Albert died, she spent the rest of her life mourning his death. Beside the love story behind the museum’s name, Victoria and Albert Museum is a great museum because it is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. Located in South Kensington, it was founded in 1852 and today it houses a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. I visited this museum with Aneke and we saw the fashion, jewelry and photo exhibitions. These 3 exhibitions are displayed in a chronological order so visitors can get a good sense of how designs and their meanings have evolved over the years. There is a fancy abstract artwork in the central space. It is funny to see this modern artwork juxtaposed against the older buildings made of brick.
2. Science Museum
3 minutes walk away from the Victoria and Albert Museum is the Science Museum. Founded in 1857, the Science Museum has a wide collection of over 300,000 items. I am not sure if it was intended but when I started my visit of the museum from the entrance at the Exhibition Road, I found that the rooms were divided based on how science was appropriated. At the start, we learnt about how science could be manipulated to make people’s lives easier (steam engines, locomotives etc). The next exhibition in the adjourning room is about astronauts and space and that demonstrates how science could be used to explore the unknown. There was a rock from the moon in that room, it was pretty cool to see it. 🙂 The subsequent exhibition shows the dynamic nature of science and technologies- it shows how technologies for the same purpose (e.g. video recorder, calculator, mobile phone) have evolved over the years. I wonder how the next phone after smartphones will look like. In the final section, there was an exhibition on 3-D printing. It is quite futuristic and it shows how science can be used for artistic purposes. It would be cool if they have an area to show how the same science, e.g. nuclear energy, can be used for vastly different purposes. Overall, it is a nice museum but I found that some areas were too dark and I had to strain my eyes to read the information. I know I should not compare but it would be great if it could be more interactive like the Natural History Museum.
3. Natural History Museum
Right next to the Science Museum lies the Natural History Museum. I think that is the most popular museum in South Kensington. At 10 am (the opening hour of the museum), there was already people queuing to get in. The museum is divided into 4 zones – red, blue, orange and green. As of so far, I have only been to the Blue Zone and it already took me 3 hours! The Blue Zone has a really nice exhibition on dinosaurs. To be honest, prior to this visit, I did not believe in the existence of dinosaurs. All thanks to Hollywood, they seem almost fictional just like Godzilla to me. But in fact, they existed millions of years ago and there are good archaeological evidence to support this. Through this exhibition, I learnt about the different types of dinosaurs, how they behaved and the different theories about why they became extinct. I wonder how planet Earth was like before Man came into existence. I guess probably the air was cleaner and the land was free of landmines and bombs then. Beside the exhibition on dinosaurs, there was a nice exhibition on the different families of mammals. My favourite part of the blue zone is the exhibition on human biology. I like how analogies were used to explain complicated biology concepts such as the different roles of hormones and nerve messages. Particularly, I enjoyed the exhibition on memory – I like the interactive stations that make me reflect on the limitations of a human mind. I will definitely visit this museum again!
4. British Museum
There is a really good museum away from South Kensington. Located in Camden, the British Museum houses about 8 million works and it is among the largest and most complete museums in existence from all continents. Some might argue that the treasures contained therein were all plundered from their rightful owners but oh well, it was a delight to see so many of them under one roof. It looks pretty fancy inside too!
There are free guided tours in different rooms at different hours. I went on 4 of these tours – Iraq, Mexico, Islamic art in the Middle East and Rome. The tours lasted between 30 min to an hour and it is quite interesting that different curators provide very different insights. The guide that showed us around the Iraq room was focused on how people arrived at their conclusion about the people from the past based on the archaeological evidence. For instance, the presence of a type of ceramic that was not found in the area indicated that people were trading with one another back then. The guide for the Mexico tour was focused on the symbolic meaning of the various artifacts – why people back then made them. On the other hand, the guide for the Islamic art was focused on how these artifacts were made, including some of the ingredients such as manganese oxide and cobalt oxide. What was really interesting is this exhibit in the picture below. It is a rule in Islamic art that you are not supposed to include creatures of God in the design. So what this artist (probably an avant-garde guy) did was he craved the birds but he took off their heads so they are technically not creatures of God. So interesting! The last guide for the room on Rome focused on the stories of the important rulers of the Roman Empire, e.g. Augustus. It is also interesting to know that the some sculptures are not actual depictions of the kings as they were used to manipulate the image of the king. Another good take-away from her stories is that you should not leave your empire to two persons, people in power just don’t like to share power. I would definitely go on more tours in the museum during my time here! 🙂