"The custom of using a fork for eating food came to England from Italy in the early nineteenth century. It was initially scorned as a foreign effeminate habit. The English ate with knives with rounded scoop-like tips, as well as with spoons and fingers. First used just to skewer food for cutting, forks evolved with blunter points to become the standard method for carrying food to the mouth," reads an information placard under a display of a knife and fork made in England in 1690. This charming exhibition on display at the Geffrye Museum of the Home pays tribute to the British penchant for letting foreign cultures seep into the fabric of their lives, and more specifically, their homes.
At Home With The World offers a snug display of home-based artifacts which illustrate the spectrum of international influence extant not just within the material objects on display, but also within the cushioning information provided throughout the show. The exhibition goes through a chronology of four hundred years of homemaking trends in Britain, beginning with the first infiltration of eating implements and ending with the modernist age of vacuum cleaners and the first Macintosh computers.
Although the intention of the show is to highlight foreign influence on the British home, perhaps its most intriguing feature is its ability to encapsulate the inherent qualities of some very endearing nationalistic character traits. The information chosen to accompany the exhibits is especially appealing in this respect: a descriptive card beside a book of recipes found in an English kitchen delightfully informs us that although "contemporaries often raised concerns about the ill-effects of foreign – particularly French – cooking methods on English stomachs," it was still in the nature of the nation to invite such trends into their home, and to be open to learning from them.
The exhibition runs through various stylistic phases which have influenced the aesthetic insides of British homes. These phases include the Japanese influence, the stamp of Art Deco, the age of Modernism, as well as the influence of foreign technology on the home. Throughout the show, the mark of Italy, France, Japan, Denmark and Poland, amongst other nations, comes through strongly. However, most items on display are actually British-manufactured, a fact that highlights the ability of the British craftsperson.
The exhibition, although humble in scope, is carefully curated in order to enhance viewer interactivity to the fullest – a characteristic of the Geffrye Museum as a whole. Tactile elements allow viewers to touch replicated features of the artifacts on display, which is surprising at first given such delicate artifacts. It does, however, serve to elevate the viewers experience to a substantial degree. Even more so do the audio-visual testimonies at the end of the show, in which both British and foreign homemakers share their experiences of building a home within the nation’s shores.
Upon leaving the exhibition, visitors are asked to write down the name of a non-British object that exists in their home. A simple request, but it underlines the entire ethos of the show: an openness to new cultures infiltrating the most intimate part of British life.
As we prepare to welcome the world to London in 2012, we ask: how ‘English’ are our homes? The answer is perhaps surprising: many of the familiar objects in our homes today have either come from distant lands or been influenced by other cultures. At Home with the World will tell a fascinating story about how a myriad of the domestic designs, decorations, materials and social customs we consider to be ‘English’ in fact originate elsewhere.
At Home with the World will explore the cosmopolitan nature of London homes over the past 400 years and the way in which they have embraced cultural exchange, making an impact on the spaces in which we live and on the value and meanings with which we imbue ‘home’. From Chinese porcelain and the great craze for ‘taking tea’ in the 18th century, to the use of Islamic and Indian patterns in the 19th century, the popularity of Scandinavian and American design in the 20th century and the globalism of the 21st century, we will show that homes in England have been shaped by many diverse cultures – and may not be so English after all!
The Geffrye’s period rooms will be re-interpreted to highlight these international influences. The exhibition gallery will explore key themes in more depth to show how a wide range of cultures has contributed to the evolution of homes in England.
Three years of intensive community and youth engagement work has informed not only this special exhibition and the exciting new displays and interpretation, but also films and trails through the period rooms, museum and gardens, all of which will encourage a dialogue about our homes. We hope visitors will think about their own homes in a new light, by exploring how other cultures may have shaped our personal spaces, considering ideas about ‘what makes a home’ and thinking afresh about the way we live now.
Geffrye MuseumKingsland Road
London Greater London United Kingdom E2 8EA
Tuesday - Saturday: 10:00-17:00
Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays: 12:00-17:00