Understanding the appeal of galleries- Haley Neil

     I found Peta Motture’s lecture absolutely fascinating. One of my favorite things to do whenever I have free time is go to a museum. I usually take some homework and head over to the British Museum or National Gallery. I can spend hours alternating between reading and wandering the museums, balancing schoolwork with the personal joy of walking through exhibits that have now become familiar. Yet, even though I spend so much time in museums, I don’t think I fully thought about all the work that went into creating these exhibits before Peta Motture’s talk. I can easily acknowledge when I think I gallery or exhibit works well- the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the V and A over the fall was stunning, and The Enlightenment Gallery and the Parthenon Gallery, both at the British Museum, are stunning. Despite this acknowledgement, I barely thought about why I found these displays so interesting. Yet know, as I wander through the museums, I have a better appreciation for how they are set up. 

     I think the clearest example is my experience with the Enlightenment Gallery. I can distinctly recall a sense of awe the first time I accidentally stumbled into the room. It was one of my first weeks in London and my old cultural foundations class went to the Museum. We had some free time to explore (technically it was a chance to see the mummies…. but I am sort of scared of dead things….). I was walking with one of my friends when all of a sudden we found the Enlightenment Gallery. Both of us stopped and stared, amazed by the aesthetics of the room. I have been to the gallery many times since then. I read Machiavelli’s The Prince sitting on one of the benches in the gallery and even brought my family to see the room on our quick tour through the museum (and I was dealing with my rather cranky teenage brother who claimed he didn’t want to go any museums in the first place). After the talk, I went back to the Gallery with Courtney to do some research for my essay. This time, I saw the room in a completely different light. Suddenly I could look beyond the beauty and attempt to understand why I found this room so pleasing. I could appreciate how the room appeals to different audiences and the superb organization (along with the excitement of finding secret doors… though Courtney seemed to think it was unnecessary to walk around the entire room looking to see if there were more after we saw a couple of guards walk into one…). It is easy to understand when you like something. Yet know I feel as though I can better understand the question of why and the extraordinary amount of work that goes into making a gallery appealing. 


Mughal Exhibit- A European in Indian Dress Watching a Performance, Haley Neil


The first time I went to the British Library, I saw an exhibit called Writing Britain. The setup was dull- a mixture of grays and blacks and whites, a page come to life. Even though the Mughal exhibit was in the same set of rooms, I felt as though I was entering a new world of color and culture. There were so many fascinating objects- ranging from paintings to crowns to books (with a replica set of armor, thrown in for good measure). It took me a while to decide which piece to write about. Yet I found myself going back to the painting “A European in Indian Dress Watching a Performance”. 

It wasn’t the most important object in the exhibit. In fact, I’m pretty sure no one else found this piece as interesting as I did. It is a picture of Sir David Ochterlony, who was born in Boston, MA, was of Scottish heritage, and eventually became a British General. Though he is typically presented in his military uniform, he is wearing Indian attire in this piece. Why did I find this so fascinating? For me, it seemed to represent a blend of cultures and countries. I am far more familiar with Western history. Throughout the exhibit there were notes on what was happening at different times in the Mughal empire. Occasionally these would include names I was familiar with. Names that I had associated with specific places, ideas, times. There were also Mughal images of saints, influenced by foreigners. And I had a moment, one of those ones where you realize that everything is connected. It was not the first time, and, I am positive, it will not be the last. There is an entire world of cultures- people and stories and themes traveling through lands, blending, coming together. 

This blend of cultures comes through in the painting. A British General, born in a land that would fight and gain its independence within his lifetime, sits in India, wearing native attire. The mixture continues within the room. The painting itself is done in a Delhi style- yet the room is decorated with British Portraits. One of the miniature portraits within the painting is of a woman. She appears to be holding an instrument, most likely a harp. In the crowd locals are playing their own music. The British Portraits also show an alternate style of dress.

I am currently taking an Art History class on British Art in London. For my first essay for the class, I wrote about British court portraits. Though the portraits included in the painting are rather different from 17th century court portraits, I couldn’t help but think of my other class. One thing we talk about a lot is that British art is truly a blend of influences. Even the court portraits of Charles I were famously done by Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck. So, how British is British Art? We are constantly influenced by an entire world, a collection of cultures with their own histories and traditions coming together. When we look at a piece, we must remember the context- all the influences, all the world. 

Rumi response, A Thirsty Fish- Haley Neil

This is how it always is

when I finish a poem.


A great silence overcomes me, 

and I wonder why I ever thought

to use language. 

-Rumi, A Thirsty Fish


Words-so beautiful, so powerful. 

Yet that power does not live in the end.

It is the means, the process. 

Putting words to paper.

Creating, sharing, reinterpreting. 


That initial spark-

Consuming, growing, 

An entire world

In a head, a poem, a novel. 


Finally writing,

In all its frustrating glory. 

Forming material thoughts. 


And then letting go, 

Sharing ownership.


This is how it always is. 



I was inspired by the end of Rumi’s poem “A Thirsty Fish”. In the poem he talks about a constant thirst and ends on a note about what it feels like to finish a poem. My response is a poem about the entire writing process. I started with a general note on writing and then focused on the steps. Each stanza gets smaller, putting the most emphasis on the final line, which is from Rumi’s poem.