Stolen Items Speak in The Museum of Bad Vibes – Podcast Review
In the BBC The Bad Vibes Museum, a series of artifacts come to life and tell us their thoughts and feelings. Yes, I know how it sounds. There’s no better way to ruin a piece of narrative storytelling than to shoehorn into hammy dramatized segments. They are of a very BBC mannerism, having also recently appeared in Lady Killers with Lucy Worsley and fake medium, about fraudster M Lamar Keene. While these fictional moments could have taken place, here the listener is invited to go deeper into the suspension of disbelief.
But I’m moving forward. The Bad Vibes Museum is part of the BBC Sounds Audio Lab, a new strand dedicated to discovering new talent and showcasing diverse voices. Our guide is Hanna Adan, who tells the stories behind a series of artefacts housed in UK museums. But this isn’t your usual educational tour told from a curator’s perspective, since the artifacts in question are stolen.
Among the items under discussion are a bronze staff looted from the Kingdom of Benin (now part of southwestern Nigeria) and currently in storage at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford; a Chinese ancestral tablet from the Horniman Museum in south London; and an Akan gold weight in the shape of a sankofa bird from pre-colonial Ghana, now living in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Adan’s goal is to find out what the coins meant to those who made them or previously owned them, how their origin stories were obscured, and what could or should be done by way of restitution. She does this with thoughtfulness and equanimity. Adan is not anti-museum, although she is, reasonably enough, against theft. “Museums are not neutral spaces,” she says. “What some of us don’t realize is that many of these objects that we look at so casually as we move from room to room are inherently spiritual in nature. . . The sterile environment of most museums makes it difficult to appreciate [their] holiness.”
And so on for the theatrical parts. In the opening episode, the Benin Bronze emits muffled cries from within its box before slicing through and revealing its past life as a ceremonial staff in the shape of a bird of prophecy, a nod to a legend in which a bird predicted how Benin would lose. a battle with the Igala people. These exposition-filled interludes are clearly meant to bring texture and character to a series that, given the many academic contributions, might otherwise feel dry. But to me, they’re a cringeworthy, unnecessary distraction.
The Bad Vibes Museum isn’t the first podcast to tell outrageous stories of colonial theft. Stuff the British Stolefrom ABC Australia, is an illuminating and often uncomfortable podcast in which writer and journalist Marc Fennell recounts how specific artefacts, from a dodo skull to the Parthenon marbles, have ended up in UK museums.