As most of you who follow our blog might know, CreateVoice is a group of young people who contribute to the planning, organising and delivering of strands of the V&A's young people's Create! programme. One of the events we run monthly is a Create Tour, a tour of a V&A gallery led by a CreateVoice member.
This April, we selected the China export gallery (gallery 47f) and I got the chance to present it to a group. The tour took place on 26th April and started at the Grand Entrance at 8pm.
To curate my walk through the gallery, I spent half a day at the V&A, researching and reading about the different artefacts housed in the collection. It was an enriching experience as I discovered facts I previously hadn't known about the world export trade and the direct and indirect effects that China's entry into the global market had on major industrial zones from the 1500s.
Coming from a commercial studies background I was intrigued by all the economic ramifications of a port in Canton, firstly set up by the Portuguese, and the subsequent expansion of the Chinese export of products: silk, tea, lacquer, ivory and porcelain. It was fascinating to see how the demand for tea in Britain created a joint demand for sugar, giving rise to two major British industrial triangles of India-China-Britain and West Indies-Africa-Britain respectively; not to mention that it led to the birth of a national beverage!
What also caught my eye was the supply chain management that was in place even five hundred years ago on an international level. When I saw the ivory boxes and fans my mind went back in time, imagining Chinese artisans working in China with ivory sourced from suppliers, who extracted it from elephants in African and Indian forests, to produce immaculate souvenirs and items for export. And finally the emergence of new marketing techniques when producers in China married local handicrafts with European iconography and imagery to please Western tastes. This helped me understand and put into perspective that for traders and businessmen, not much has changed today (apart from the use of ivory!).
It is a small gallery and one could easily miss it, but if you dedicate some time to it, you will realise how significant these objects have been in making China what it is today. Listed below is the route we took during the tour, with each museum number in brackets.
1. Chinese export art panel - entry to gallery
2. Fan depicting a scene in Canton (T. 118-1966)
3. Silk panel depicting martyrdom of St. Sebastian (T. 245-1921)
4. Tea caddy with filigree work (M. 114-1919)
5. Six panel lacquer screen (W. 37-1912)
6. Model of a boat made from ivory, wood and silk (A. 6-1936)
7. Boxes made from elephant tusks (1769-1982), tortoise shell (636-1877) and mother of pearl (392-1878)
8. Porcelain crockery with European imagery (C. 47&A-1928)
Words: Yashraj Jain