Durham Oriental Museum

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August 19th 2021
Published: September 8th 2021
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Durham Oriental Museum is a bit of a walk from the city centre. The website suggested two different routes and I opted for the prettier one, walking along the River Wear. I headed to Framwellgate Bridge, which is the main bridge from the west in the centre of Durham. Since it was early, there was only one family taking selfies with the view of the castle and the cathedral in the background. The bridge dates back to the 15th century, replacing one built earlier in the 12th century for the Bishop of Durham. The views of the castle and the cathedral's towers was beautiful, I love that they just poke out from all the trees surrounding them. I only wish it had been a sunny day as it was rather overcast, but the British weather is always unpredictable. I also got to soak in the view down river of Prebends Bridge, which is really pretty and feels like you are in the countryside. The view the other way is much more modern of the Milburngate Bridge and lots of traffic, not scenic at all.

I headed down the steps and they were a bit janky, creaking and moving as I descended, maybe it was the Covid pounds that have been piled on. The staircase is quite dark and enclosed. I wouldn't fancy walking down them at night. At the bottom of the stairs I turned left and walked in the opposite direction to get some nice views of the path and the bridge's arches over the River Wear. After taking some pictures I headed back in the correct direction. I walked along the river bank admiring the view of the castle and the cathedral on the opposite side. The area next to the river was rather overgrown with green plants, I also spotted some pretty purple flower buds. The path was also a little flooded in places, nothing too serious, but some advanced thinking about foot placement was needed. I stopped for ages to take pictures of the Old Fulling Mill on the opposite side of the river with Durham Cathedral's towers peaking out of the trees above. Such an iconic view of Durham.

A little further along I came to the Old Corn Mill. This building is pretty big, but has always been boarded up for as long as I can remember. It's a shame really as it could be a great bar, restaurant or accommodation. I didn't end up staying there for long as more people arrived ruining my peace. I continued on and watched a rower coming down the river. I passed the boat shed for Durham School and this stone cylindrical thing, which looked like it had faces carved into the stone. I really wish there had been an information board next to it as I would have loved to have found out about it, but there wasn't, maybe its history is unknown.

I came to Prebends Bridge, which was built in the 1770s and designed by George Nicholson. The bridge has three arches that span the River Wear. Just before stepping onto the bridge there is a plaque which displays what was written about Durham by Sir Walter Scott. Once on the bridge the views of the cathedral and Framwellgate Bridge were really nice. I could spend a long time there just soaking in the view. I wish I had time to continue along the path by the river, but to reach the museum I had to walk away from the river. I walked past a really cute stone cottage, that I think belongs to Durham Cathedral. The cottage looks inhabited. I really liked the red shutters on the windows. I followed the path uphill and came to came to a busy road and roundabout. From there, I headed up to the roundabout and took the road that would lead me to the university campus. I was a bit shocked that there was no street signs as I would have liked to have know that I was definitely on the right track. The walk was up a gentle incline and it felt like I was in the countryside as there were lots of trees lining the road. It took about another ten minutes to reach the museum walking past several schools and colleges of Durham university.

The museum is kind of tucked away and I passed a few artefacts on my way to the entrance. I liked the metal horse sculpture outside by David Freedman that had been commissioned in 2016. It was part of an exhibit entitled Daily Life in Ancient Lebanon and is a modern reimaging of a Phoenician chariot. Since entry to the museum is timed and I arrived a bit too early, I waited outside and had a snack. I would have liked to have sat on one of the picnic benches but they were wet from the recent rainfall. Just before my allotted time, I headed into the museum and got checked off on their list of visitors. The museum is pretty compact. I had already downloaded a map and headed down to the bottom floor to start my exploration.

The first floor is dedicated to China. There were quite a few different things on display, covering all of the different periods in China history. I'm not the biggest fan of looking at all the ancient pots, but I did enjoy looking at the items from the Communist period. There were some great white/grey human shaped vases with bright red mouths. They looked quite unusual. I headed up to the second floor, which covers the Himalayas, South Asia and Southeast Asia. I really liked the Hindu Shrine Tree on display. This replica was made by a local artist, Bub Bacon. In some villages in India, it is believed that forms of God reside in trees and they are worshipped and treated with great respect. One of the information boards I read was about how tourism has lead to cultural changes in Southeast Asia. It's good to remember that tourism isn't always a good thing and that we need to do more to be responsible tourists when travelling. Of all the things on display, I was really impressed by the Brunei bamboo root carving of a man's face. It was (for me) unusual and I hadn't seen anything like it before. I also liked the chapatti board and roller as I had never seen one before and I could imagine someone using it. Another standout was the Bollywood movie poster. I love the vibrancy. I also liked the Selfie Queen sculpture by Siri Devi Khandavili. It is the artist's take on modern society's worship at the altars of self, consumerism and social media. At first glace, the sculpture looks like a traditional Hindu deity, but on closer inspection it is a female figure posing for a selfie. The artist sees the rise of the selfie as poignant as people want to live a life worth documenting.

I was looking forward to the 3rd floor as it housed the Korea and Japan exhibits. I was a bit disappointed by the Korea section as there wasn't really much to it. Most of the stuff was contemporary, not necessarily a bad thing, but just seemed to be a mish mash of thing you would find in shops in Korea. I think I may have been spoilt spending so long in Korea and having had the opportunity to go to many great museums there. The Japan section, while not massive, was better. I really liked Jomon by Junpei Omori. Jomon was a technique used from 14,000 to 300 BCE and means cord patterned. The porcelain piece was really bright and I enjoyed admiring the detail on it. I was also captivated by the Noh mask on display.

One of the reasons that I wanted to visit the museum was the temporary Lu Xun exhibition. Lu Xun is a writer known as China's greatest modern writer. However, as I found out, he is also the founder of the Modern Woodcut Movement in the 1930s. He transformed neglected woodblock printing, using it for social change. He also championed Chinese traditional arts and encouraged them to flourish. The prints on display cover every decade since Lu Xun founded the movement. Lu Xun featured in quite a few of the prints, but they covered many themes. The Silk Roads exhibition disrupts the Lu Xun exhibition. This exhibition was a bit of an eclectic mix, which reflects the diversity of the region. There were sections on different religions and political ideologies of the region. There were some Communist pin badges on display. I'm not sure if all of them were from the DPRK, but at least half of them were. There was a prayer mat from Afghanistan which had Lenin on it, a nice blend of Communism and Islam? The description said that these prayer rugs were made to be sold to Soviet troops to generate some badly needed income for locals. Back to the prints, I really liked the ones that depicted how life had been in China during times of change. I really liked the prints about The Long March, the building of the Three Gorges Dam and the one depicting Yan'an, which was a Communist stronghold. There was also a nice one of Hangzhou, which was more geometric in style and mainly blue, green, and red. There were also a couple of rooms dedicated to Ancient Egypt, which I found a bit odd, as I wouldn't have classed it as belonging to the same region as the other exhibits. By this point, I was in information overload, so just had a quick walk around the rooms. The museum was pretty good, since it is quite small, there isn't a tonne of stuff, but most of what they have is interesting and the walk along the river to get there is lovely.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


Vision of an Ancient ChariotVision of an Ancient Chariot
Vision of an Ancient Chariot

David Freedman Durham Oriental Museum
Brunei Bamboo Root CarvingBrunei Bamboo Root Carving
Brunei Bamboo Root Carving

Durham Oriental Museum
Chapatti Board and Roller Chapatti Board and Roller
Chapatti Board and Roller

Durham Oriental Museum
Selfie QueenSelfie Queen
Selfie Queen

Siri Devi Khandavili Durham Oriental Museum
Noh MaskNoh Mask
Noh Mask

Durham Oriental Museum

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