We’ll let anyone in these days I Guest Curator’s Corner with Ian Hislop

My name is Ian Hislop. I am the guest curator of the British Museum Citi exhibition I Object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent. That’s my name twice which is quite egotistical but anyway there we are welcome to my corner. I was asked to have a look at the British Museum collection to see if I could find any evidence of dissent. Normally the view you get in the British Museum is that of the Kings, the rulers. It’s their mummies, their statues, their jewellery, their swords, their pottery. It’s their version of events. And what I was asked to do was to find people who questioned that. People who thought ‘well, I don’t agree with that.’ And people who thought ‘I’d like some other narrative.’ The most surprising thing was just how far back people have taken the risk of making things that say essentially ‘NO!’ I don’t buy this, I won’t have it. Which I find immensely cheerful. So, all the way back to a brick in Assyria that someone’s put their own name on. To Egyptian slight pornographic graffiti done by workmen. Through the ages, through the continents anything to, you know, a yellow umbrella used in the recent Hong Kong democracy protests . So the sheer range of it was what I found amazing. I think that my favorite object is the Stonyhurst salt. Which is basically a salt cellar. But it isn’t. This is an object that dates from a time when the Catholic faith was being outlawed in England and so the Catholics very elaborate holders to put in the sacrament, the body and blood of Christ, and then all this was banned. But yet here is a salt cellar dating from this period which was used as tableware which is quite clearly not a salt cellar but a host. It’s got beads of red blood on it. it’s got actually the form of crosses. it’s made out of the materials that signify Christ and I just I always found it marvelous the idea that people have got this on the table and someone’s saying; ‘That wouldn’t be Catholic would it?’ and they’re going ‘Oh no! That’s for the salt. Could you pass it. It’s full of salt, you see.’ and it just clearly isn’t. And it’s that phrase hiding in plain sight. Which we use quite a lot in the exhibition which is about objects that everyone knows what you’re up to but they can’t quite prove it. People are very keen to say well it doesn’t make any difference does it. Essentially, people let off steam or whatever. A: I think letting off steam is pretty good. I think it’s a genuinely good thing for people do. To be able to allow themselves this form of protest. But also there is, for example, one fantastic object in the collection which is a forged banknote and this is by the artist George Cruikshank working in the nineteenth century and that the time they were hanging people for counterfeiting notes and they were hanging people for passing on counterfeit notes. And Cruikshank said ‘alright here’s a counterfeit note!’ And it’s basically British currency but he’s changed the pound sign into a rope, instead of being signed by the governor of the Bank of England it’s signed by the hangman, Jack Ketch. There’s a row of people hanging along the top and he’s got a picture of Britannia stuffing her own children into her mouth. It’s a fantastic piece and the law was changed. I mean, he did boast about it rather a lot afterwards but fairly straightforward object that got something changed. I find it very cheering that people have always said ‘No, I don’t think so.’ and have always felt either brave enough or fed up enough to make the protest. So I do find that kind of consistency very pleasing. I gather there was some controversy at the British Museum when the phrase ‘homo religiosus’ was put on an exhibition as though one of mankind’s things had always been to be religious. I’ve got a slight temptation to do ‘homo dissentus’ because I feel it’s pretty much in the human DNA. Thank you for listening to this Curator’s Corner. There are lots of other Curator’s Corners obviously, they’re not as interesting, but, I mean, they’re alright. And if you wanted to find them, they are on the British Museum YouTube channel, so I would subscribe to that. If you want any more information or tickets to exhibition, click on the skull. Never thought I’d say that.

32 thoughts on “We’ll let anyone in these days I Guest Curator’s Corner with Ian Hislop”


  2. Can you guys return all the objects not native to the UK and artifacts that don't belong to you or your culture ? or are they replicas and you guys have already return them ?

  3. Perhaps dissent is human nature as Ian Hislop suggests. Or perhaps democracy is human nature, and dissent is simply the best we can do while under the thumb of profit-worshipping tyrants. Perhaps one of these days The People will come to their senses and set fire to the kings, queens, bankers and generals, and when greed is treated like other forms of cancer we'll see how much dissent remains.

  4. Refreshingly fun and imaginative video for a museum and I'm so pleased this novel approach to an exhibition is being taken. I'm really looking forward to seeing it and having some preconceptions challenged.

  5. I wonder I'd he's right… literally… that dissent is in our DNA. Maybe that had a part to play in our species outsurviving the other human species.

  6. Yep Ian Hislop you always like the guy that says "No" to authority… yea right. I remember the HIGNFY episide where you sneered at Tommy Robinson along with your other lefty pals without looking at the facts of the matter.

  7. I'm in love with this channel. All the curators are enthusiastic about their jobs…it must be fantastic to work as a curator at the British Museum. Also, it is a good initiative to put the people that make the museum in front of us along with the collection, so we can see the objects and love the people.

  8. We sure could use some of that "homo dissentus" on this side of the pond right now. Your Guest Curator's Corner was quite good. Thanks

  9. It's like sitting at your Room, with all the statues that belong to the Acropolis museum and someone says 'I don't think this is taken from Greece..? '. And you're going – still – ' we are protecting it ' …..

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