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V & A Museum of Childhood

17 July 2015 Imogen Greenberg

With the summer holidays rapidly approaching, there’s one museum in London that appeals to children of all ages, and it has a knack for drawing adults in too. London Calling headed down to the V & A Museum of Childhood, to see what’s on...

Housed under a beautiful 19th vaulted ceiling, light and airy, the collection at the V & A Museum of Childhood includes toys, costumes and typical childhood possessions dating from the 18th century to the 21st. At some point over the two floors, something will click in your memory, and one of the objects in here will bring strange, half forgotten childhood memories back. A gooey alien in an egg, which somewhat hideously gave birth, reminds me of the school playground, dropping the alien on the floor and never quite managing to get the grit out. A 1995 Playstation, reminds me of my cousin, and an irritating robotic dog of a Christmas trip to Hamley’s when they were all the rage and I begged for one.

The toy collection also shows the remarkably rapid change in the last few decades, as technology has changed childhoods. Even the displays here cannot keep totally up to date with all the latest gismos. I particularly like the collection of clockwork toys. For any generation brought up on technologically advanced toys that could walk and talk, and dolls that were able to pee on you, they’re a huge novelty, almost creepy with their garish colours and painted faces, moving in stunted, crawling lines. In the displays of dolls and their houses, what’s more apparent than changes in technology is the change in taste and style, as Bratz take over from bonnets and booties.

The Museum’s programming includes a number of small displays, and one larger temporary exhibition. It is ideal for younger children, who lose interest quickly in lengthy exhibitions. Highlights for this summer include:

Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House is on until September 6th. It is not just a journey through the history of the dolls house, but through everyday life, homes and family relationships. It is a delight for adults and children alike, with interactive sound, and giant dolls house rooms to dress up in (as a warning, don’t try to squeeze in to the pinny, unless you’re younger than ten...). The exhibition ends with an imaginative display called Dream House (pictured), a doll’s house structure created by contemporary designers from 20 backgrounds. Each created a room of their own, and a view of their own, be it fantastical, practical or aspirational.

Kites from Kabul: If you’ve read or seen The Kite Runner, this will be familiar territory. In Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, kite flying is not just a spectacle but also a sport. Gudiparan (literally meaning flying doll) are fighting kites, light and flexible, the lines strengthened so they can fight to cut each other’s lines. This display includes a series of beautiful photographs, with children silhouetted in the early morning sun, or throwing garish kites in to the midday blue sky, competitive and laughing. These photographs were taken in the Old Town, and the children who made the kites in the exhibition are also from the area. Kite flying was banned in Kabul under the Taliban, but has since returned to its former popularity. But with it has come the turmoil of war. This exhibition glimpses at the lives of children in the Old Town of Kabul, and aims to foster greater understanding of Afghanistan, its people and culture in the UK.

The Alice Look: 150 years since its publication, Alice in Wonderland is a beloved tale both for children and adults, as its comic nonsense has darker undertones. This exhibition looks at the aesthetic of Alice from early publication, and across the world, as every generation and culture has produced its own Alice look. With references to literature, high fashion and comics, this exhibition shows how far Alice’s influence has spread, and how much subtle references to the children’s story have permeated popular culture.

The V & A Museum of Childhood is free. For more information on these exhibitions and more, please see the website.   

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