6 November 2017




There seems to be a pattern of me reviewing exhibitions that I promoted in my post from February, back when I wrote for Walk of Fame. I am making this sound coincidental: admittedly, I have been excited for the Vikings exhibition since before my February post and even more ecstatic to share my review with you! Our wonderful Editor-in-Chief - who received a sneak peek of Vikings as she attended the Media Preview - also wrote a brief thematic and background reflection on the exhibition, which I highly suggest you read as it complements mine quite well.

I had the pleasure to visit the exhibition during Friday Night Live (Valhalla themed of course), preceded by a lecture about Viking body art and adornment. I visited with a colleague and fellow Musings writer, as well as two “non-typical" museum visitors, who all provided feedback about the night.

Promotional Panel for the Vikings Exhibition. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
In his opening and closing remarks, archaeological scientist Robert Mason warned the audience that we would need to go at least twice to fully see everything in the exhibition. As an avid museum-goer, I turned to my colleague and said: “challenge accepted.”

Robert was right.

There are a great amount of objects in this exhibition! The majority of artifacts are borrowed from outside institutions, mostly from Scandinavian countries. The exhibition is certainly archaeological heavy; many objects are extremely small and detailed, requiring time for the visitor to fully examine the artifacts and read the labels. Personally, I am not used to these types of exhibitions and felt uncomfortable at first.

The introductory panel was visually appealing and informative. I also appreciated its text size and positioning. Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
My discomfort was also attributed to the fact that in addition to being a text-heavy exhibition, a vast majority of the text panels were laid flat, requiring visitors to look down while reading. The objects on the other hand, being in glass display cases, were more accessible.

Some panels were laid flat at waist level, while others were on an angle but at ground level. The part of me fascinated with the Viking age wanted to read every panel, but due to their positioning, it was very difficult. My ‘non-museum goer’ friends felt the same, as after a while their neck started to hurt and stopped reading.

An example of how the majority of text panels were laid flat. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
The positioning of the text panels allowed for only one to two people to read them at a time, compared to the introductory panel and digital maps on the walls where a larger group of visitors can admire simultaneously.

Besides the positioning of the text panels, I found the aesthetic design of the exhibition extremely clever:

A section in the exhibition similarly designed to mimic the tips of Viking boats. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
Since this is a travelling exhibition, I understand that the ROM may have had certain limitations to the logistics of displaying pieces. I was also visiting on one of the ROM’s busiest nights and anticipated that the large crowds may not be the best environment to slowly explore the exhibition.

The message the exhibition communicates is a highlight of my experience. As a huge fan of the History Channel’s television series, Vikings, I certainly went into the exhibition with stereotypical images in my mind. The exhibition is successful in dispelling these myths and stereotypes about the Viking era and people.

Can you spot the Viking myth? Source.
Stereotypes commonly include the idea of Vikings as dirty and rude. Although we cannot say much for the latter, the exhibition uses archaeological evidence to challenge the concept of Vikings as unhygienic.

Text panels challenging Viking stereotypes with object labels (above and left). Findings from a Viking man's grave, including a flip comb (right). Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

The text panel above and on the left explain how the stereotype of Vikings as dirty and 'barbaric' can be challenged by archaeological findings of items such as spoons, wash basins, and combs, as seen with the flip comb (right), found in a Viking man's grave. In this section dedicated to everyday Viking life, there are artifacts in the form of pots, pans, and utensils. There's even a recipe you can take home!

Take-home recipe for 'Viking bread.' Let me know how it tastes! Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.

In addition to dispelling stereotypes, the exhibition also explores how these stereotypes were and are used by certain groups of people to their advantage. Most significant for me (as it was the topic of my History MA thesis), is how the Nazi regime used stereotypes of the Vikings, particularly of the Vikings as the ‘master race,’ to advance and provide historical ‘support’ to their propaganda and educational agenda.

Panel discussing the exploitation of Viking myths. Image (above) displays a typical versus more realistic Viking helmet. You can pull up and down on the horns to see the shadow alter in the background! Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
The exhibition is also filled with a variety of interactives. One of my favourites is conducting your own “digital” archaeological dig:

The archaeological dig interactive. You can tap on spots where you want to "excavate," which then reveals the artifact you have found (above). Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
Another included reconstructions of clothing (which you could touch) hung behind two podiums equipped with interactives. The objective of the one I participated in is to try and dress different individuals from the Viking era. Although this interactive was not the most user-friendly, it was neat to physically see and touch the reconstructions of clothing while learning about the cultural and societal significance behind clothing and accessories.

I quite enjoyed the game's wit (above). I found the relationship between roles in society and tools and accessories fascinating! Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
Other interactives include listening to Viking myths, lifting a replica Viking sword to experience its weight, and spelling your name in Runes.

Two things have been established: I would most likely not have been a Viking warrior (re: weight of the sword above) and my Viking name would be Kulia. Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
My friends and colleagues expressed their desire to have more modern and immersive interactives that do not require more reading. For example, as part of the FNL: Valhalla programming, I had the opportunity to immerse myself into a battle scene and Seer reading through virtual reality offered by the History Channel’s Viking TV series. One word: incredible!

You were also able to take home a Google cardboard headset and download the app to experience it at home (which is incredibly fun)! However, this interactive was on a different floor than the exhibition. It would have been interesting to have an augmented or virtual reality interactive as a permanent part of the exhibition: even if not about the TV series, but perhaps using AR/VR to see what a typical Viking home, room, or boat would look like from the inside.

Casually receiving a Seer prophecy. Photo courtesy of Sabrina Rafiq.
One of my favourite parts of the exhibition is the last room that examines the Viking age in the East Coast of Canada.

Panel in the Vikings in Canada section. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
I also happened to eavesdrop on a conversation between the curator, Craig Cipolla, and two visitors, which then turned into a large crowd. Cipolla is an incredible storyteller and, when talking about Canada, I could not help but be intrigued. He discussed the story of the Beardmore sword, which is the only ROM artifact on display in the exhibition, but extremely fascinating! I couldn’t possibly reiterate the significance behind this object as well as Cipolla, so I highly suggest you attend the ROM Daytime: Meet the Vikings event on November 30, 2017.

The "Beardmore sword." I love the invite to "please touch!" Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

Catching a glimpse into Viking homes in Canada. Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

Overall, Vikings does a fantastic job at communicating its main message in challenging visitors’ stereotypes and preconceived ideas about the Viking people and era. This message is able to reach both typical and non-typical museum visitors, despite the positioning and amount of text. It certainly provides all visitors a glimpse into objects that are rarely seen outside of Scandinavia and provides an excellent, thought-provoking introduction into Canada’s own Viking age. I wonder, though, did 'Canadian Vikings' apologize before raiding?


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