Tag Archives: work placement

“Undertaking my curatorial internship has allowed me to discover the world of curating contemporary art and has enabled me to gain invaluable first-hand experience”

Mathilde Jourdan, MA Museum Cultures with Curating student, is undertaking a work placement at the P21 Gallery, London, as part of her degree course. In this blog, she highlights the experiences she has gained so far on her placement and her ambitions for the future.

The ‘We Refuse To Be Scapegoats’ exhibition

Work experience is increasingly essential to the development of a career, sometimes even more so than degrees and skills. For many students or recent graduates, acquiring that work experience is made difficult by the lack of opportunities in the professional world. Therefore, work placements and internships are often the first step into building one’s experience.

After an initial career in archaeology specialising in Greek cults and sanctuaries, I decided to switch to a museum career. The degrees available in France did not offer an interesting overview on the field of museums nor practical work experience; for those reasons, I decided to continue my studies in the UK. In the context of my MA Museum Cultures with Curating degree at Birkbeck, one of the main aspects I was looking forward to was the work placement, and I was thrilled when I was offered an on-going placement at the P21 Gallery in a curatorial role under the guidance of the director, Mr Yahya Zaloom.

During my degree I have been focusing on studying the impact of colonisation on museums’ collections and the decolonising process in art institutions. The P21 Gallery felt like the perfect environment to develop my ideas and curatorial experience. The gallery, located in Somers Town, is a London-based charitable trust promoting contemporary Arab art and culture. It also commits to increasing the visibility of Arab artists, partly thanks to their residency programme, reACT, offering opportunities for emerging student artists to contribute to the creating of art that aims to strengthen cultural ties and open dialogues between the East and West.

In the first few days of my placement, I met Pam Skelton, a British artist with mixed Eastern European Jewish heritage, who was preparing for her exhibition. We Refuse To Be Scapegoats was Pam Skelton’s first solo UK exhibition in the last ten years and it was the result of Skelton’s long-term research on her own family history, in particular the memories and impact of the Jewish Shoah (Holocaust) and the Palestinian Nakba (meaning ‘catastrophe’ or ‘disaster’) on ensuing generations. I helped her and the exhibition curator, Iliyana Nedkova, with social media posts and related publications, which enabled me to explore the exhibition resources they curated – all free to read, listen to, watch or download. Pam draws her work from different sources, including her own video and audio archive from her research trips to Poland in 1993 and 1996, Israel and Palestine in 1995, and Scotland in 2016, alongside online archives selected from Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations, human rights charities, and media resources.

It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work alongside an experienced curator and an inspiring artist while discovering the importance of social media and diverse forms of communication to reach audiences, especially in a COVID-safe gallery environment. In the future weeks, I have the chance to develop my own online exhibition on the representation of Algerian women, by female artists of Algerian origin. The exhibition has two main goals: firstly, to denounce the hurtful stereotypes created by Orientalist men-artists from the 19th centuries which, to the present day, have consequences on the view of Arab women; and secondly, to help women of Muslim and Arab backgrounds reclaim their history, their bodies, and their image, eroticised and oppressed by the Western world.

Undertaking my curatorial internship in the lead to the private view of the We Refuse To Be Scapegoats exhibition allowed me to discover the world of curating contemporary art and has enabled me to gain invaluable first-hand experience of publicising a solo exhibition comprised of moving image works which span 20 years.

In the future, I intend to continue expanding my knowledge and experience to work in curating, in particular for difficult and silenced histories which are, more than ever, relevant nowadays. This work placement made me realise the importance of peoples’ struggles through history, the impact these events have had on our current society, and the priority we should give to those narratives to develop our understanding of the past to create a better future.

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“The work placement as part of my degree course has given me the opportunity of a lifetime”

Sarina Munro, MA Museum Cultures with Curating student, is in the midst of a work placement at the Swedenborg Society, an educational charity in central London which publishes the works of Swedish scientist, philosopher and visionary, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). In this blog, Sarina shares how she is undergoing a complete career change and explains what she is doing on her placement.

Sarina Munro

On a rainy April morning I stopped outside a beautiful bookshop that looked like it was out of a Charles Dickens novel. I walked up the side steps and entered this enchanting little gem in the heart of Bloomsbury, London. Yet, what happened was more than stepping into a bookshop – I had just stepped in through an invisible wardrobe into my very own Narnia. As I closed the bookshop door, I closed the door to the outside world – a high-octane, fast-paced, ever-instant digital world, which can sometimes feel so overwhelming and utterly consuming.

I made my way to the Gardiner Room and found myself in an amazing room with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. I stood there and did a 360-degree turn, smiling to myself because I felt like I had just walked into Tommy Lascelles’s room in The Crown. This was going to be my workplace for the next three months, under the mentorship of a Swedenborg Society librarian and archivist, Alex Murray. I was starting a work placement as a collections and archives assistant, as part of my MA Museum Cultures with Curating at Birkbeck.

I am a mature student. The first time I went to university was in the 1990s. I read English, then did a post-grad in print journalism, and went on to have a career in national newspapers and magazines, which culminated in a staff job at a national broadsheet. However, even when working on a newspaper, I would daydream about going back to university to study at Birkbeck. That daydream to study, then became a dream to pursue a whole new career in museology. When the world went into lockdown in 2020, I realised life is too short to just dream. Once on my course, I chose the work placement option, so that I could get some practical experience. I applied to the Swedenborg Society because I am a huge fan of the early feminist-activist Josephine Butler, who led the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s. In my interview, I gave an impassioned speech about her work and my interest in Swedenborg Society’s Josephine Butler collection. Little did I know then that the executive director, Mr Stephen McNeilly, would give me an opportunity of a lifetime.

After my initial three weeks’ training, I was handed a folder by Mr McNeilly. It was Swedenborg Society’s Josephine Butler collection: eight letters written by Josephine to James John Garth Wilkinson – homeopath and supporter of the repeal campaign. I was tasked with transcribing and researching the letters. There was such an incredible intimacy in holding those letters, feeling them between my fingers, looking at the fading ink on the yellowish paper – and then, deciphering cursive-Victorian handwriting. On my first day, I struggled, but as each day went by, I became more and more familiar with Josephine’s writing and began to spot dates and connect them with corresponding events in Josephine’s life. It was an incredible feeling, being given the privilege of working with the collection. I felt a closeness to Josephine Butler. I also felt extremely humbled and honoured to have the responsibility of transcribing Josephine’s impassioned words and extracts from her spiritual diary.

My work placement is hands-on and inspiring. Every day I learn so much about collections, archives and the history of Emanuel Swedenborg, his work and all the prominent figures in history that he has influenced and been linked with, such as William Blake, S.T Coleridge, JJG Wilkinson and many more. Working at the Swedenborg Society has inspired me to peel back more and more layers and I have immersed myself into the esoteric, enchanting world of Swedenborgians.

The Swedenborg Museum is currently showing Swedenborg in 27 Objects, curated by Executive Director Stephen McNeilly. It is open to the public every Wednesday from 11am to 5pm. It is a wonderfully eclectic exhibition – from The Josephine Butler collection, a letter written by disability activist Helen Keller, to illustrations by William Blake. For the ghoulish, there are even Swedenborg’s body parts on display. Come and visit. Enter through the bookshop and experience your very own Narnia.

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