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Archipelago

By  Lisa Temple-Cox 2023 - 2024

This work is emerging from a project inspired by Alfred Russel Wallace's book 'The Malay Archipelago', which I have been using as a catalyst to unpack ideas around my own mixed heritage, decolonisation in museum collections, and the notion of a 'Wallace line' between my English and Malay heritage. I have often seen myself as emerging from an interstitial space between my father's position of science and engineering, and my mother's 'native' superstitions and ghost stories.

The project has inspired much research, covering colonial narratives, natural history, family documents, botany, and decorative arts inter alia. I have been working at, with or within a number of different museum collections: doing visual research, uncovering personal histories, training in new techniques, and engaging in cross-mentoring with other artists and curators. These include Ipswich Museum - where I work as a Collections and Learning curator - UCL anatomy lab, Pitt Rivers Museum, the Grant Museum, Kew Gardens, Cambridge Botanical Gardens, and NHM Tring. 

One interesting strand of this research was magic and ghosts: having acquired books on Malay magic, poisons, and charms, I realised that I have an early memory of my mother taking me to see the 'Bomoh', or shaman, when I was very young. Unpacking this further I found that the tales of Malay ghosts she used to terrify us with are still alive and kicking. 

My mother, sadly, is not: she passed away during the course of my research a year ago. Although she had a Muslim funeral, I feel that she remained in life closer to the animistic beliefs she shared with us as children. Regardless of the overt religion of the populations of the region – be it Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Bhuddist – there remains a strong undercurrent of folk beliefs and practices across the islands of the archipelago.

I am in the process of developing these ideas, layering the magic and mythologies of the area with family stories and my own memories. The shapes of my Islands are based on drawings of os coxae from Victorian anatomical specimens, in use at UCL during Wallace's lifetime.

Eventually I envisage a personal archipelago of islands, each with their own story to tell. 

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From the wet room

comminuted fracture of the wrist, Mutter Museum

Care (Towne I)

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