Sunday, February 8, 2009

Possible themes

Some staff here at the Museum got together to workshop some of the main ideas that had come out of the initial audience research. We’ve come up with a very general description of the show.

The exhibition will investigate the view that the underlying driver of evil is fear. Over time the things that people fear has changed and so have our perceptions and opinions of what is evil. The exhibit will explore the roots and essence of evil. It will demonstrate that evil in modern popular culture has roots in historical culture. We journey through genocides religion, slavery and the face of evil. It will explore significant objects, personal stories, powerful sights, sounds to show the variety of perspectives on some of humanity’s darkest experiences.

How we will do this is all a movable feast at the moment but here’s four main themes identified (and also adapted from the Tropenmuseum exhibition) so far -

1. Origins of Evil
· Duality – Good vs Bad introductory theme. ‘maintaining the balance’ in life.
· Religion/Spiritualism

2. Protection from Evil
· Amulets and incantation
· Ritual and superstitions and Exorcisms

3. Faces of Evil
· Demonic representations
· Natural world, Everyday beasts
· Perpetrators and victims - Exploitation, Abuse of power.
· Vices
· The other– the terrible unknown distorted or disguised version of humanity.
· Subcultures - disrupting conformity

4. Impotent Evil - representations of evil so commonly used in public dialogue that the icons of devils and demons and Hell have become impotent and kitsch.

Perhaps there are some other themes or stories you can think of?


  1. Depiction of evil in popular culture?
    Nursery rhymes and fairytales?

  2. Curious as to why you are limiting the underlying driver of evil to be fear: I'd have thought several of the seven deadly sins that you appear to be proposing to treat as 'faces of evil' are really drivers - what about greed, envy and pride/vanity ... particularly in the more edgy context of political/corporate/ institutional evil?

  3. Does the Origin's theme explore the human need to create/imagine evil - as a way of defining good or of defining a moral compass? It's happened consistently across all cultures, so there's clearly something inherent to being human in this.
    Ben's mentioned fairytales - Bruno Bettelheim's 'Uses of Enchantment' might be worth a look.
    But also perhaps explore the 'compelling' nature of evil - why do the villain roles always seem more memorable than the heroes?

  4. Origins of evil

    I understand that historically the concept of the Devil did not arise until after the concept of One God (monotheism). Before monotheism, most gods had multiple aspects that included good and not-so-good things -- think of all those Greek gods and the Hindu pantheon.

    The monotheistic God was conceptualised as representing good things. So the bad stuff was represented in the form of the Devil.

    Good versus bad became the duality.

    In the great myths of Ancient Greece (Odyssey) and Hindu (Bagavadgita) there are opposing forces and great battles, but they are more like heroes fighting other heroes or wrongdoers of various types.

    Mind you, Homer encountered lots of evil on his travels. I guess that eating your own children is generally regarded as evil, no matter how many gods in the pantheon.

    Were Penelope's suitors evil? Or just miscreants?

  5. I'd like to see a section on the pathology/psychology of evil. Recent studies show that some people lack the capacity for empathy and this connects with some pretty bad behaviours. Some discussion of inherited traits and shaping experiences as contributing factors would be good.

  6. Hey folks, in arts I'm also engaged in sacral themes. So for me a very important cultural aspect of 'the evil' [esp. in the Western/christian civilization] are the Seven Deadly Sins [pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, covetousness and sloth] - btw: I'm not religious :)

  7. Gillian, the Odyssey has so much potential! My favourite story was always the Cyclops with the Sirens coming in second. Though it seems the message is one of overcoming adversity, this is achieved through wit and cunning and dependent on the fickle whims of the gods rather than through the sole power of goodness and purity and morality.

    Ancient Greek, particularly Spartan, infanticide is considered abhorrent these days whereas the Greeks saw it as vital for their ethno-cultural survival as it (supposedly) eliminated the weak thereby protecting their military and economic power