Treasures Of The World from the British Museum: To open at National Museum on Dec 5

Museum director offers a preview of the artefacts

Mr Neil MacGregor gave humorous explanations of the artefacts, including an Egyptian papyrus sheet he described as a guide to help the dead navigate the bureaucracy of the afterlife.
Mr Neil MacGregor gave humorous explanations of the artefacts, including an Egyptian papyrus sheet he described as a guide to help the dead navigate the bureaucracy of the afterlife.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Prized artefacts from the British Museum will not go on show here until December but its director, Mr Neil MacGregor, had no trouble channelling the awe and charm of the objects at a preview talk he gave on Tuesday.

His lecture, titled A Shared History For A Global World, inaugurated the Culture Academy by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

The academy was previously known as the NHB Academy, a training and development platform set up by the National Heritage Board in 2010 for heritage and museum professionals.

The renamed academy continues to be managed by the National Heritage Board, but its programme of talks, workshops and masterclasses will now be available to the wider arts and culture sector, which includes educators, arts groups and cultural policymakers.

This diverse crowd made up the audience of more than 170 people who attended the talk at the National Gallery Singapore auditorium.

Mr MacGregor, 69, who narrated the popular BBC podcast series, A History Of The World In 100 Objects, was in his element on Tuesday, speaking with wit and warmth about key artefacts in the upcoming exhibition.

Treasures Of The World from the British Museum opens at the National Museum of Singapore on Dec 5 and will run till May 29 next year. It had previously showed in China and Taiwan.

He had the attentive audience laughing along to his humorous explanations of artefacts, including an Egyptian papyrus sheet from the Greenfield Book Of The Dead, which he described as a guide to help the deceased navigate the bureaucratic organisation of Egyptian afterlife and pass the final judgment.

Referring to a projected image of the papyrus sheet, he said: "Here are the scenes of judgment, here is the judge sitting in court, you are standing in front of him and they tell you what questions he is going to ask."

He added, in a playful jibe at civil servants in the audience: "And you're from the civil service, so you'll do exactly as you know needs to be done and you will have the proper answers."

This idea of a shared humanity was something he repeatedly emphasised when speaking about the exhibition and the British Museum's extensive collection of artefacts from around the world.

"This is what the exhibition is about, it's about showing that if you collect the world, you discover that we are all in a sense, the same, although the same in such wonderfully different ways that is exhilarating and energising."

He acknowledged that a museum that endeavours to collect the world, however, will have to address issues involving power and exploitation.

Responding to a question by the Culture Academy's dean, Dr Alan Chong, during the question-and- answer segment, he said: "There is no doubt that all the great encyclopaedic collections have been enriched by the exercise of unbalanced power, whether that is directly military or economic. But there is also a great deal of exchange that has nothing to do with that at all.

"What that leads on to is the question: What special obligations has that put on me now in using the collection."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'British Museum treasures to show here'. Subscribe