I have spent a lot of time in and around the Museum of Zoology. Not because I work or volunteer there, but because a close-friend of mine – due to begin her PhD at Yale very soon, and perhaps the most impressive and interesting person I know – has been studying, researching and assisting there since we both began our studies at Cambridge in 2014. Until very recently, however, I had not “done the tour” exactly; I’d been behind the scenes, in the stores and the labs, down dark corridors and through many high-security doors, but had not ventured into the exhibition space itself, beyond the first column on the top floor.
And so, now that I have finished my first degree and have a bit more time on my hands before starting a paid job (hopefully!), I have decided to explore Cambridge’s museums, starting with the Museum of Zoology.
My first impression of the exhibition space was “Wow. That’s a lot of bones”. There are skeletons of all shapes and sizes, in displays, in boxes, hanging from the ceiling… It’s quite a surreal space for someone who is used to books, buildings and bits and bobs. But there is far more to the museum than just lots of bones! The museum is arranged really pleasingly, with a balcony overlooking the lower floor, integrating all of the animals together but thematically and by family. There is also an exhibition space below the entrance foyer, which – at the time of visiting – housed many works by Jonathan Kingdom, which will remain there throughout the summer.
The Jonathan Kingdom exhibit was facinating. The theme, ‘Evolution as Inspiration’, attracted children and adults alike with its bright colours and patterns. It seemed a very accessible exhibit, depicting the key concepts relating to evolution in a tangible way. A range of media was used; sketches sat next to paintings, bronze sculptures sat next to ceramic masks. I was pleasantly surprised to see this sort of exhibit in a scientific space. Having been to the Natural History Museum in London, I expected animals, animals and more animals, but did not expect to see them in pieces of modern art. Kingdom’s sketches had also been placed among the species themselves, where appropriate, including my favourite sketches of his (those of a serval cat). My favourite piece overall was the gorgeous bronze zebra-head that resembled a helmet of a Roman Praetorian Guard… Very majestic indeed.
There was also a bronze sculpture akin to the work of Henry Moore, simply entitled ‘Mammalian Motherhood’. It is unclear what type of mammal Kingdom based this piece on, but the message is clear: all mammals, through nursing, are dependent on the generations before them. I found it to be a very humbling piece, placing us as humans alongside the rest of Earth’s mammals, just as strong and just as fragile, just as dependent and just as nurturing.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Museum of Zoology, and will definitely be going back again soon!