The galleries are organised by theme, both offering insights into the individual cultures and providing unexpected juxtapositions.
Patterns of Life, on Level 1, explores the dynamic interaction between people and their possessions throughout the stages of life, from across the four continents. Possessions can reflect identity, mark important life events, and serve as a means of expression, such as the modern African custom of choosing a coffin in the shape of a favourite object.
Next door, Living Lands presents objects made by indigenous peoples, from the North American arctic to the deserts of Australia, and considers how landscape influences the way people lead their lives and what they believe. The displays also emphasize the modern situation, through contemporary art such as works by the Australian artist Danie Mellor.
Facing the Sea, on Level 3, is the only gallery in the UK dedicated to the cultures of the South Pacific. The gallery looks at the cultural diversity of this region and explains how Pacific Islanders’ lives are framed by their relationships with the sea. Here you can find our Maori waka, or war canoe, sensitively completed in Perspex by contemporary artist George Nuku.
Performance and Lives celebrates the diversity of music, dance and costume around the world. Not only can you see various instruments on display, ranging from classical to folk, but also listen to recordings and play instruments specially made for the gallery by artist Victor Gama.
On Level 5, Artistic Legacies considers the relationship between what is considered artistic ‘tradition’ and the work of contemporary artists, for example African artist Gérard Quenum’s arresting sculpture L’Ange. Using the artists’ own words, the displays show art to be something that is perpetually evolving, frequently borrowing from other times and places.
Inspired by Nature examines the ways in which people have engaged emotionally and spiritually with nature through art. This can be seen in the fragile Chinese headdress made from kingfisher feathers, and the elegant, evocative poppies by Iranian sculptor Maryam Salour. Nature still influences artists, although contemporary work is often a statement about human impact on the natural world.
Lastly, in the Imagine gallery on Level 1, young children (0–8 years) can develop their senses by interacting with shapes, colours, patterns and motifs taken from around the world.
Please note that due to the exciting programme to create two new galleries showcasing our Ancient Egypt and East Asian collections, the East Asia (China, Japan and Korea) and Ancient Egypt galleries are currently closed. The new galleries are due to open in 2018. You can find out more about the project here. You can also download our Ancient Egypt trail [PDF 2MB] to find artefacts on display in other galleries, or discover Ancient Egypt through our online games and learning resources.