Masks, myths and mummies

Judith Palmer

The Horniman's African collections have led young explorers to belief, bravado and dreams. Judith Palmer reports

"The museum is the best because you are getting to see old things that are new to you." So runs the last line of a poem by a Year 9 pupil at St John Rigby Catholic college, in the London borough of Bromley, written as part of Inspiration Africa, an ambitious education project at the Horniman Museum in south-east London, which developed art, ICT, literacy and citizenship skills.

The project is inspired by the Horniman's African Worlds exhibition, Britain's only permanent gallery dedicated to Africa-related cultures. Each of the 12 participating schools focused on an object in the collection - a Nigerian Ijele mask, a Trinidadian midnight robber headdress or a Ghanaian Asante stool.

They worked with museum staff and storytellers, poets and textile artists from the arts organisation Cloth of Gold, to explore the idea of a word associated with each object, such as "power", "beauty" or "bravado". The works are on display in the Horniman's balcony gallery.

St John Rigby pupils looked at the mummy cases and chose "belief". They created modern hieroglyphic symbols in the shape of headphones, birthday presents and horseshoes, then mummified the shapes, wrapping them in cotton strips and attaching museum-style labels to explain each symbol's meaning. Years 3 to 6 at Brent Knoll special school in Lewisham, south London, used a Shona headrest to think about "dreams", and screen-printed dream cushions.

The pupils worked with a web designer to show their work online at The Horniman also runs children's craft sessions daily until September 1. Sessions include opportunities to copy aboriginal bark paintings or make interpretations of Congolese masks out of cane. Robert Fyle, 16, is one of the participants. He is modelling his own superhero figures, merging the poses of TV cartoon characters with facial details inspired by the museum's bronze Benin plaques.

Inspiration Africa, until October 28 at Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, London SE23 3PQ. Tel: 020 8699 1872.

Julia Midgley spent a year as artist in residence at the Granada television studios as part of the national Year of the Artist scheme. An exhibition, Granada Sketchbook, opening today in Liverpool, is a visual diary of her year, showing drawings and paintings she made of the working life of the regional programmes department.

Midgley sat in the studios, drawing at great speed, to capture the maelstrom of activity. In bright inks, on coloured papers, her pictures convey the drama and immediacy of live programme-making. MPs dash in for make-up before a debate; set dressers transform studios; visiting celebs are glimpsed between the jostle of lights and cameras.

The sketchbooks have the air of a media studies foundation course, and take us into hidden workrooms, from news-gathering and graphics to edit suites and production galleries.

Granada Sketchbook, Ainscough gallery, 7 Falkner St, Liverpool L8, until August 30, tel: 0151 709 9633; Wendy J Levy gallery, Didsbury, Manchester, September 8-29, tel: 0161 446 4880; and Dukes Oak gallery, Sandbach, Cheshire, October 7 to November 18, tel: 01477 544778. Illustrated book available from the galleries, pound;7.50.

Danish artist Lise Autogena has been working with the 1920s sound mirrors that still dot the English coast. These large, concrete dishes were part of a failed experiment to detect the sound of enemy aircraft flying in across the Channel, before the invention of radar technology.

Piecing together fragments of research and memories collected from people living near the crumbling sound mirror at Dungeness in Kent, Autogena has made an atmospheric short film with Joshua Portway: As Far As The Eye Can See. The film is being shown at Dungeness Lifeboat Station on August 8 at 7.30pm. Admission is free but booking is essential on 01303 258 594. Visit the website at www.blackshoals.netdungeness

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Judith Palmer

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