Nothing Without Us is a co-produced gallery trail that shares the lived experiences of disabled people, their stories revealed by objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum.
In the summer of 2023, the Museum’s Curating for Change Fellow led a group of co-producers in researching disability across multiple times and spaces. Their questions grew from asking how disabled people lived throughout time, to interrogating how the objects capture the experience of disability itself. Their ideas covered themes of Form and Function, Precarity and Violence, and Care.
We invite you to reflect on how such experiences have not only shaped their lives, but have a deeper connection and meaning that matters for all of us.
Visit each of the six stops on this trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum - in the museum and through the accompanying webpages - to discover stories about the lived experience of disabled people, inspired by the objects in the museum's collection, and consider what it means for all of us. Some stops include more than one display case - look out for the bright pink and teal graphics among the displays to find all the stories. In addition to text-based narratives, some co-producers have also created and loaned artworks to feature as part of the trail displays in conversation with the museum objects.
More digital interpretation will be added to the trail webpages as work continues on this project over the next few months.
Four of the six stops are on the ground floor, with one on the first floor, and another on the second floor.
Ground Floor (also sometimes called the Court)
On this floor, you will find stories sharing experiences of the body and the mind; how different forms are depicted, and functions or behaviours are understood.
1. & 1a. Shaping the Body and the Mind
Discover three stories by Hannah, Sarah and Lucy.
Find these in Cases 147, 148A, and 149 titled “Human Form in Art”. This stop explores the experience of “masking” and learning social cues, playfulness as a form of expression and learning, and the value of hugs.
2. Communication and Expression
Find two stories by Christopher and Hannah, as well as embroidery artworks by Hannah.
Find these in Case 107A titled “Writing and Communication”. This stop expresses the value of being able to communicate one’s own experiences through a variety of mediums such as artwork, accessible formats like Braille, and more abstract ideas such as the ancient Egyptian “weighing of the heart”.
3. A Prayer for Help
A story by Brenda.
Find these in Case 32A titled “Votives”. This stop investigates how votives give us an insight into past people’s experiences of pain and suffering, and how conditions we might not call disabilities can still have disabling effects.
4. Life, Death, (After) Life
Read stories by Rachel and Kyle, as well as a translated Ancient Egyptian story printed on onion paper produced by Juliet.
Find these in Case 7A titled “Treatment of the Dead”. This stop illuminates how reframing our approach towards human remains – in this case, Egyptian mummified remains – and their burial provides new ways of understanding ancient ideas of the body.
First Floor (also sometimes called the Lower Gallery)
On this floor, you will find stories which explore disabled people’s complex relationship with medical intervention and innovation and how seeking care can at times lead to feelings of precarity.
You’ll also find a Feedback Station, where we would be excited to receive your thoughts on the stories you’ve heard and hear your own stories.
5. Surgical Interventions
Discover stories by Laurie and Brenda.
The stories in Case L87A titled “Surgical and Medical Implements” interrogate the historical practice of trepanning, modern innovations in the treatment of neurological conditions, and asks an open question on how do we begin to quantify those disabilities we sometimes label as “invisible”.
Second Floor (also sometimes called the Upper Gallery)
On this floor, we’ve given space to highlighting disabled people’s experiences of trauma and violence. The overhanging ceremonial clubs and maces serves as a reminder of how these symbols of power are also a very visible reminder of the act of maiming, and so we ask visitors: Why do we Maim?
The stories in Case U30 to 31A titled “Clubs” uncover the historical significance of depictions of maiming, and shares the personal stories of a family whose member’s each individually have faced decisions that caused them harm. The case also holds space for reflections on recovery and safety, with a patchwork piece depicting a personal journey of recovery from trauma and a reflective piece on the effect of rules, which we've featured below.
Why do we maim?
Find stories by Kyle, Juliet, and Ryan, as well as blackwork embroidery by Ryan and textile artworks by Juliet in the display of clubs, in the tall display case on the right wall as you enter through the door.