Imagining India: Greeks, Romans and the End of the Earth opened at the Museum of Classical Archaeology (MoCA) on 26 June. This is the last of three instalments of my diary of the six months leading up to the exhibition opening.
May: the pressure is on
We are now in exam season. The Cast Gallery is overrun by muttering students. I’m spending my afternoons in endless revision sessions. My students are starting to look glazed whenever I mention the word ‘India’. Their exhaustion is catching, and I’m wondering how everything will get finished. I tell myself that once the exams start I’ll have twice as much time to work on the exhibition….
10 May: Confidence is flagging, but then I meet with Mark Elliott, Curator at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). I talk through my floor plan with him and it (sort of!) makes sense. He has a chest of mysteries in his office. Inside it, colourful posters of Hindu gods. They are his own personal collection. Intriguing…!
Mid-May: I’m busy making maps. It began with a simple map to show both the Roman Empire and the Indian subcontinent (which I found impossible to source). Then I realised that maps themselves could help tell the story, the different ways the ancients believed the world looked. We might not be able to borrow the real things, but I can make my own. Visitors to the Museum find me hunched over a lightbox at the front desk. I produce the maps by hand first and then doctor them on Photoshop. I want them to be bold and colourful and a little quirky. The result looks a bit like this:
19 May: The exhibition poster is finalised, with the help of Rich and Malavika from the University of Cambridge Museums team. There’s no backing out now.
End of May: I’ve been watching too many cop shows. (Not even good ones: Lewis…) I put up a whiteboard in the office with the floor-plan and images.
June: the final sprint
1 June (T-25): I have a new job: Marketing Assistant with the University of Cambridge Museums team. I am super, super excited. They would like me to start ASAP. No problem! Although… working at the UCM in the mornings means the time I had left to mop up the exhibition has effectively halved. Ah, in the words of our curator Sophie ‘she’ll be right’… she makes me extra strong coffee, and we announce the exhibition online. Symbolically, the Cast Gallery, always prone to atmospheric extremes, is starting to heat up in the summer sunshine.
In our office, I’ve gone into full-on nesting mode. Books are everywhere. Pictures have spread from the whiteboard across to the walls. The walls are covered with images and maps and bits of text for the panels. Sophie and Jennie negotiate places to put down their mugs. Katie and our two new inventory volunteers are buried under piles of paper.
9 June (T-17): Lost is down. This is it. There needs to be some Imagining India to go in those empty spaces…
10-11 June (T-16-15): It’s the weekend – an opportunity to really focus on getting the panels finished. Jennie rescues me on Sunday afternoon. We have chocolate sorbet. Thank you, Jack’s Gelato.
12 June (T-14): My first morning with the UCM team. Everyone is very kind to me in my wild-eyed state.
15 June (T-11): Mark pops round to the Heatbox(TM) with a huge clutch of his posters. This is a gamechanger. Suddenly ideas we’ve been talking about in the abstract begin to make sense. Jennie, Sophie and I mock up where they might be hung. We’re all struck by how different Hindu iconography is to the classical we’re so used to, and yet there are some interesting resonances with the casts. It’s almost as if they’re adding colour to them. An image of the chubby infant Krishna stealing a sweet adds a mischievous angle to our playful toddler with a goose. Different images of divine beauty, of order fighting chaos – we see things that we had never noticed before. I decide to leave the interpretation light-touch, to let the images speak for themselves.
Framing every poster is beyond the budget and, as we discover, no two posters are quite the same size. In keeping with the grungy aesthetic, I decide to display them in artist’s sleeves, and hang them with colourful bulldog clips.
19 June (T-7): It’s super hot. The Gallery must be hotter than Kolkata. Work under the glass roof is very difficult. Sophie brings emergency sorbet. (Thanks again, Jack.)
20 June (T-6): Frames are ordered for the two largest posters. Let’s hope they arrive on time.
22 June (T-4): A stress dream last night, in which Mark rocks up with the entire Hindu pantheon and they demand to know where the frames are. The panels are almost finished. Mark, Yannis (our Director), Sophie and Jennie all read through them. THEY ARE SENT TO THE PRINTERS. Installation day tomorrow.
23 June (T-3): INSTALLATION DAY. Sophie and I collect the panels from the lovely guys at AVMG and we begin to hang them. My head must be wonky: nothing looks straight! Thankfully Sophie is much more competent. Objects are positioned in their cases. Casts are carefully moved. It’s a whole team effort, including Katie, who has just finished her final exams. She makes beautiful strings of pearls for Hercules’ case. Through it all, we’re open to the public as usual.
24-25 June (T-2-1): I would love to say that there was nothing left to do after installation day, but that would be a huge lie. When we went home on Friday, two display cases were unfinished. Although the professionally-printed large panels are up, the smaller ones, printed on our own printer, are not. I have to work like a demon. I discover now that there is such a thing as laminator’s elbow.
At about 5pm on Sunday, I am half way up the stepladder putting the final touches to Alexander the Great’s adventures. Chris, our cleaner, comes in to make sure that the carpet is hoovered. Neither of us expects to see anyone. We terrify each other. As we have chocolate fingers to recover, I look around the Gallery. I realise it’s all going to be OK.
26 June – Imagining India opened. Normality resumed!
Imagining India: Greeks, Romans and the End of the Earth is on display until 29 September. Hannah tweets at @drhanprice.