Students at the University of Aberdeen have adapted to the Covid-19 restrictions by moving an exhibition that they plan, curate and deliver, online for the very first time.
The virtual exhibition Safekeeping – Protecting What is Valued will open on June 9 and has been developed by the Museum Studies class of 2019-20.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only shaped the format in which the exhibition, which would usually go on display in the Sir Duncan Rice Library, has been delivered – it has also provided increased relevance to the theme.
The exhibition explores how communities and individuals through time have protected themselves, and the things they care about, from supernatural forces, illness, and threats posed by humankind.
Ellen Cooper, who was part of the design and marketing team said: “We were told that our exhibition would change from a physical to an online exhibition around the same time the UK was told to stay at home to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our institutions, such as the NHS, from harm.
“We had already considered appropriate themes and come up with Safekeeping – Protecting What is Valued as that is one responsibility when learning museum best practices.
“But as the world moved to a place where protection suddenly became about protection in terms of masks, hand sanitizer and other personal protective equipment, it allowed us to consider what it meant at very different periods in our history with fresh perspective.”
Rebecca Palomino who was part of the team responsible for selecting objects to be displayed in the virtual exhibition added: “The University has a rich collection which includes many items which make us think about dangers from the past from poison gas antidotes to man traps.
“As a topic, ‘protection’ reveals so many insights about communities and societies in terms of their beliefs, health and even their possessions. It has been fascinating to explore this and analyse what it means to protect, particularly through the lens of the current crisis and the additional perspective it offers.”
The exhibition features artefacts from all over the world, as well as some from much closer to home including the Inverurie lucky stone. This seemingly insignificant object was handed down through generations and was said to bestow protection upon those who had died.
On a more practical level, the Kirton of Skene mortsafe provides an example of how buried bodies would be protected from resurrectionists, more commonly known as body snatchers, who were prevalent in Scotland during the 1800s.
Elif Dagtas who was part of the team planning the layout of the exhibition said moving to a virtual format had opened up opportunities to include objects which would have been impossible to display within the museum.
“Prior to lockdown we were able to run rampant through the entire museum store which was a real treat, but often reminded us of the dangers of some objects,” she said. “Were those spears poisoned? Was that too tall or heavy to place in a display case?
“The switch to a virtual exhibition allowed us to chuck those worries in the bin and include some objects that might have been impossible in our original physical exhibition.
“While the Covid-19 restrictions have been difficult, as a team we have used online connections to get together and help each other more.
“This period has taught us the deeper and more complex aspects of collective work. We all became better at solving teamwork problems and have drawn to each other more since we were all in the same boat and understand each other’s struggles.”
The virtual museum will go live at www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/safekeeping on June 9.