Inspire 9 & 10 – The Ashmolean Museum

About The Ashmolean Museum:

The Ashmolean Museum was founded in 1683 and is the second oldest university museum in the world. The Ashmolean has amassed a vast collection of cultural artefacts, and 120,000 these are now recorded online. These artefacts encompass a variety of historic time periods, allowing the museum to display everything from Ancient Egyptian mummies to contemporary art exhibitions. This enables the museum to convey exciting stories from arrange of diverse cultures and time periods.  In turn, the museum is also aware of its social responsibility and the need for the cultures from which these artefacts originated to have a voice themselves. Therefore, many of the museum’s contemporary projects engage in community outreach. This allows different cultures the chance to tell their own stories and offer perspectives on the heritage of each object.

Activity 1: ‘Opening the Box’ Podcast (Episode 7)

In this podcast, museum curator Dr Jim Harris explores the mysteries of tortoiseshell box, one of the objects of the Ashmolean Museum’s collection. The box contains a secret portrait of a woman, and a lock of her hair is enclosed. Whilst this may seem characteristic of many other museum objects, the box raises some interesting questions. The history of its ownership is intertwined with many well-known figures, and there is an unease surrounding the way that this wealth was acquired.

Activity 2: Online Ceramics Collection

This interactive timeline allows you to explore the museums vast array of ceramics, and traces their development through time. This spans from a ceramic vessel dating from c. 10,000 – c.330 BC, all the way to the present day. Each object has a profile breaking down its key attributes and indicating where it can be found within the museum.

Explore this timeline via the button below and select two items from different eras.

For each item research the following:

  •  What techniques were used during this era to produce your object?
  •  What was the main function of each object? Was it functional, decorative or both?

Activity 3: Cai Guo-Qiang & Gunpowder Art

In this video, artist Cai Guo-Qiang discusses his unique art, which uses a combination of oil impression drawing and gunpowder. Drawing inspiration from this explosive substance, Cai Guo-Qiang argues that art should have an element of surprise and be free from restraint. , Cai Guo-Qiang draws inspiration from his childhood and the presence of gunpowder in the culture of his hometown village. In doing so, he highlights the way in which gunpowder can signify struggle in search of freedom within society, something which is attested in his artwork.


Cai Guo-Qiang argues that gunpowder can encapsulate the struggle for freedom within society. Pick a social movement or charitable group of your choice. Answer the following questions:

  • Which object would you choose to convey the message of your social movement?
  • How would it be integrated within your art exhibition?
  • How does it convey the intended message of the social movement / charity?