Glasgow Tackles Global Beliefs

By Hills, Ann | History Today, August 1993 | Go to article overview

Glasgow Tackles Global Beliefs


Hills, Ann, History Today


Britain's first Museum of Religion -- inevitably controversial -- has been attacked verbally and physically, but now, after its official opening in Glasgow by the Princess Royal in June, it should come in for praise. |We knew when we started that this museum would be contentious. Our aim is to make people think, and be aware of the issues', said Vincent Taggart, publicity officer for Glasgow's museums. Not content with their rich array of exhibits, the curators are scanning the world for additional displays.

Since last autumn Tamara Lucas has spent weeks in Australia researching the aboriginal communities and watching the progress of dreamtime paintings. Now the paintings are appearing at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in an exhibition |Dreamtime: Aboriginal Art'.

At Yuendumu, 300 km northwest of Alice Springs, Tamara's study of Central Desert paintings by Warlpiri artists, included a bush trip to sacred sites and recording the songlines sung by Aboriginal artists. |The notion of religion and Dreamtime is inseparable from daily Aboriginal life, and art acts as a tool for reproducing and teaching both insiders and outsiders about beliefs', she says.

The investment in the Australian exhibition will help build up the museum's permanent stock, helping to help build up the museum's permanent stock, helping to fulfil its aim, via imaginative, global foraging, to present the public with representations of a worldwide variety of beliefs. |We would like to convey the cultural, religious and spiritual values of the art in the Museum of Religion', says Vincent Taggart.

The museum has tried to encompass mankind's beliefs through mainstream and fringe religions in several galleries presenting the main world religions, minority cults, ritual from birth to death, and Scottish traditions. The curators have had to tread carefully.

Ethnic communities in Glasgow were consulted, and views recorded. |We had teething problems with the Sikhs -- senior people were upset because we were going to include a picture of a man with a cut beard and no turban', said Harry Dunlop, Curator of History. Settling differences, the Hindu community then welcomed a commissioned statue of Ganesh with garlands. But a South indian bronze of Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, decorated with coloured rice and flowers, was damaged by a violent fanatic. It is now being repaired. The Hindu community have asked that it be raised on a plinth above floor level, which will be done.

Inevitably rows arose and the Reverend William Morris, minister at Glasgow Cathedral and chaplain to the Royal family in Scotland, accused the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Reverend Hugh Wylie, of tarnishing Easter Week by highlighting the 'erroneous and hurtful' mistakes in the museum guidebook, and claiming insufficient attention to the Christian church in Glasgow. Naturally local newspapers took up the case with relish, especially as remarks on the subject were made by the Moderator at a civic lunch attended by the Lord Provost. …

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