Wednesday, 27 January 2016

UCL student explores MoDA's Japanese collections

Museum Studies student Sahava Baranow is currently on a placement at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA).  Zoe Hendon finds out how she's been getting on:

ZH: Sahava, can you start by telling us about yourself and your course?

SB: At the moment I am doing an MA in Museum Studies at UCL, where I am learning about the history of museums, and how they can be effectively studied to improve what they are doing. The course is divided into a theoretical part and a practical part, so I have had to write academic essays as well as budget plans, and I have also learned things like how to build crawling insect traps.

My previous academic background is in transnational history, with a focus on the period around 1900, but I have always loved museums and the work they do. So after having done some volunteering, I decided that completing a degree to learn about museums in a more structured way would be the best thing for me to do.

ZH: Why did you want to do a placement at MoDA?

SB: Since I have developed a focus on Japanese collections in the last year or so, I got quite excited about the possibility to work with MoDA and when I found out that they were looking for somebody to do some work on their Charles Hasler collection, I applied immediately with the hope of being able to look into Japanese objects along the way. When I came in for an interview, however, I ended up talking more about Japanese material culture than anything else. The museum got back to me and told me that I could do a research project around katagami (Japanese stencils) to create a placement that fits the needs of the collections as well as my personal interests.

ZH: What have you been doing at MoDA?

SB: I have been doing some research into katagami, which are part of the Silver Studio collection to find out more about their design and their significance in Japanese aesthetics and mythology. I also got a chance to go to ULITA in Leeds, to look into their collection of katagami.

At the same time, I have been able to make the most of my German by looking at some of the German-language objects in MoDA’s collections.  [look out for another blogpost on these in the next few weeks].

ZH: What have you learnt as the result of your placement here?

SB: During my time here I have learned practical things, like how to use the museum catalogue and how to handle fragile books and magazines. I have learned about the intricacies of archival and object-based cataloguing methods and how a museum within a university can operate. Working here has also led me to be more creative in thinking about different ways of displaying objects in museums. Of course, I have also learned a lot about katagami and their meaning within the collection, and the culture they came from.

ZH: Was there anything unexpected about this placement?

SB: What impressed me most at MoDA was how nice everybody here is. I have worked in other museums before and I have always found that people in cultural institutions are friendly, but at MoDA I felt welcome, taken care of and I was always looking forward to my days here.

ZH: What’s next for you now?

SB: After this placement I am going to focus on finishing my MA and some projects I have been working on at other museums in London.  But I’m also really pleased that I have just been offered the post of Assistant Curator at the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, where I will help to redevelop the permanent collection displays.

Sahava has been a great asset to the team while she's been here, and we wish her every success in her future career.  

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