Manchester Museum Reopens with Diversity Focus

Words by
Sphere Editors

2nd March 2023

The cultural power of Manchester continues its flex with the reopening, last week, of the Manchester Museum. With its vast collection reconfigured through a 21st century lens, the museum now tells the diverse story of the city. Here SPHERE looks at some of the fascinating new collections on show.

With its mission to put the communities of Manchester at the centre of its programming, including its South Asian and Chinese diasporas, the museum is now telling the true story of Manchester, dealing with its legacy of Empire and colonialism, and leading the way in the UK by introducing Indigenous interpretation across the Museum’s collection.

Following its ambitious £15 million transformation, Manchester Museum reopened its doors with the aim to build greater understanding between cultures, a more sustainable world and to bring to life the lived experience of diverse communities through the Museum’s historic collections and new displays.

Golden Mummies of Egypt

Manchester Museum’s first major show after its £15 million revamp is the UK debut of Golden Mummies of Egypt, an exhibition presenting a rich perspective on Egyptian mummies and Western approaches to them.

During its tour across the US and China, this landmark exhibition received 450,000 visitors, who were fascinated to learn more about the relatively little-known Graeco-Roman period of Egyptian history between 332 BC -395 AD.

Star objects in this show of 8 mummies and over 100 other artefacts include the so-called ‘Faiyum Portraits’; their discovery in the 1880s changed previous conceptions about the development of art. The painted mummy panels from the Roman Period covered the deceased to provide an ‘eternal face’ for the afterlife. Said to have inspired beloved Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, to write The Picture of Dorian Gray. These panels are amongst the most striking images from the ancient world.

Golden Mummies of Egypt
Gilded Mummy of a Child, from the Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibit
Dorian Gray
Mummy of Atremidorus: this painting is one of the so-called ‘Faiyum Portraits’ from the Egyptian period which intersected with the Roman Period, which depicts the deceased's ‘eternal face’ for the afterlife and is said to have inspired Oscar Wilde, to write The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Golden Mummies of Egypt
Golden Mummies of Egypt
Chinese Culture Gallery 

The Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery highlights personal stories of migration, friendships and collaboration to inspire empathy and build understanding. Developed in partnership with the University’s Manchester China Institute, it draws on historical and contemporary links between Manchester and China. Showcasing rarely and never-displayed collections from cultural partners across the city.

Personal stories and objects include a late Qing dynasty (1636–1912) ‘Manchu’ headdress decorated with blue kingfisher feathers, chess pieces, a dragon robe made for Prince Duan shortly before the Chinese Revolution in 1911, and ornate incense burners. A taxidermy milu deer, once on the brink of extinction but now thriving in China after decades of transnational conservation efforts, also features. 

Chess Pieces
Chess Pieces, Chinese Culture Gallery
Dragon Robe
Richly embroidered Chinese dragon robe made for Prince Duan shortly before the Chinese Revolution in 1911
Incense burner
Japanese Incense Burner will be on display in the Welcome area
South Asia Gallery

The South Asia Gallery, a British Museum partnership, is the first permanent gallery in the UK to celebrate the lived experiences and contributions of the South Asian diaspora, and it was co-curated with 30 local community leaders, educators and artists. 

The gallery explores the connection between South Asia and Britain and the legacy of Empire alongside contemporary South Asian culture and creativity, perspectives that have not been presented before. Divided into 6 anthologies, the Collective has grappled with a range of subjects through 140 artefacts, including one of the collective's great-grandfather's World War I uniform, and a rickshaw imported from Bangladesh and decorated by local communities in Manchester. The gallery also has a dedicated space for performance, film and other participatory activities.

Collage by Michelle Oliver, South Asia Gallery
South Asia Gallery
I beg you to define me by Azraa Motala
Tabla drums
This rickshaw has been decorated by members of the Bangladeshi community in Manchester

The Manchester Museum is free to visit, but booking is advised.