Saturday’s excursion was somewhat profound for enthusiastic members of the London Culture Club. The venue of our second meeting was at the Wellcome Museum in Kings Cross to see an exhibit entitled ‘Identity’. It dealt with investigations into the self from DNA to diary, genealogy to gender and everything in between. I left with some answers and a whole new set of questions about who I am and who I want to be.
The first room had the famous diarist Samuel Pepys as its figurehead. This made me think that, with our lives laid bare on various social media platforms, few people keep private diaries now. We know our blogs and tweets and walls will be read, even if hiding behind anonymity, so we window dress our thoughts to make ourselves seem more interesting or important. Thus, it was fascinating to read someone’s truly private thoughts. Particularly poigniant was the WWII girl whose mother turned to prostitution and took her young daughter to dance with the soliders.
Surprising discoveries were the absolutely beautiful photographs taken by Claude Cahun, a French woman whose self portraits explored femininity, sexuality and religion. Her androgynous allure oozed the rebellion of 1920’s flappers and continued into anti-Nazi campaigning. I shall definitely be checking out some books on her life and work.
Most striking for me was the gorgeous April Ashley (born George Jamieson) who was one of the first British transsexuals. The bravery of people who undergo this operation astounds me, suffering the huge stigma it still carries. The photograph of a smiling woman I first mistook for Audrey Hepburn, so sophisticated and stunning, only upon entering the room did the tale unravel. After joining the navy and living in Paris George became April, a stylish woman who modelled for Vogue, met film stars and rock ‘n’ roll legends, and campaigned for GreenPeace. She fearlessly handled an exposé of her past. It sparked in me a desire to cast off self doubt and really go after what I want in life. Her story was captivating and I urge you to go and read it.
Of course, the other rooms were wonderful, especially the Alec Jeffreys DNA room (a must for CSI fans), but I will let you discover those for yourself. If you were half as inspired by this exhibit as I was, my work is done.
An added treat were the permanent exhibitions, accessed via the spiral staircase. ‘Medicine Man’ housed shocking medical tools and paintings, though my favourite display was the ‘End of Life’ section. It housed melencholy artefacts befitting a world of Dorian Grey via Indiana Jones – a treat for any individual such as myself with a healthy amount of morbid fascination. ‘Medicine Now’ was not as interesting from a personal angle but there was much to see. It is worth stopping by the ‘Malaria’ area as it housed some interesting art that made you think. Serial dieters may also like to stop by the ‘Obsesity’ area, if only to see the work of a girl who photographed everything she ate for an entire year. Food diary, obsession or art? You decide!
The Identity exhibit runs until April 6th, visit here for opening times and more details.