Lately we’ve asked visitors what they would think about an exhibition about weapons. What would they like to see? What would be interesting to show? Are people interested in the technical aspects? Or would they like to discover how the weapons were used d
Contextualizing the objects
The exhibition should focus on stories and personalities. Who have used, engaged, received and collected the weapons. Visitors want a meaningful context for the objects.
It’s also important for some objects to focus on how they got in the museum. Because it will give visitors some insight into the function and practice of museums. The aim of this approach is to create a connection for the visitor with Australia, the AM, and the objects.
The objects may be geographically and/or culturally distant, but by contextualizing them with stories and personalities they can be seen as closer and more significant.
A high number of visitors surveyed were most interested in the Shirase sword, particularly the Katana. They were attracted by how sharp it looked, how shiny it looked, the Japanese characters on it, the technology used to make it, like Japanese history or contemporary culture.
Many of them were most interested in it because it was familiar in some way, such as they had seen them in movies and television, anime and cartoons, had studied or were interested in martial arts, had heard of Samurai warriors/soldiers.
This initial research confirms the idea that people are attracted by the exotic and unknown, and the familiar and known. In both cases though, most people only seemed to have a passing interest in the weapons displayed. Even the objects that were in some way familiar or recognizable didn’t seem to evoke a strong emotional response.
When asked what they would most like to see in an exhibition on the topic of Weapons and Weaponry, many people struggled or failed to connect the topic with the objects on display. Some responses included guns, knives, muskets, bows and arrows, spears, cannons, swords, medieval weapons and Roman battle tactics. Others wanted to see a chronological timeline showing development in weapons technology.
The topic of weapons was more strongly associated with fighting, war, battle technology and enemies than social or cultural history.
The central theme could be ‘Friendship’ and/or ‘Journeys’.
Focusing on the friendship element of the Shirase sword could place the object in a cultural and historical context which everyone can relate to. It is easily accessible and promotes a positive message.
Focusing on the journey element – from the creation of the Shirase sword, its purpose, use in training, cultural status, how it was passed on over time and space, its symbolic function, and how it ended up on display at AM – gives a richer cultural context and has the potential to inspire curiosity about cultural artefacts and museums.