‘Like stars in a complex constellation, these objects convey the sweep of Jewish history’

A new book by Rebecca Abrams traces the journeys of the Jewish people through 22 objects in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Here, she tell us some of their stories

We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky, wrote the late, great Leonard Cohen, and perhaps it is this lurking fear of eclipse that explains our desire to preserve the material proof of our presence. Museums are not only treasure troves of material proof that we humans are here and are large, they provide the bulwark of the past as protection against the alarming expanse of the future. Stories in many ways serve the same function, curating the random evidence of existence into meaningful narratives. But inevitably, both museums and stories are selective in how they arrange the evidence, depending on whose story they’re curating, whose presence they’re preserving. Oxford, where I’ve lived for nearly three decades, is ...

‘I dream of being an accountant’: Wall of Dreams shines refugees’ hopes over London

As a huge projection over London’s Southbank Centre illuminates the wishes of the city’s displaced people, participants explain some of their stories

Mohammed, a gangly 17-year-old who fled Syria with no hope of seeing his family again, dreams of being a footballer. Drita saw a side to humanity no 16-year-old should during her journey from eastern Europe. Now, she has pinned her hopes on becoming a teacher.

Abu has a dream too. The 18-year-old longs to stand in his grandmother’s kitchen in South Sudan, mouth watering in anticipation of her cooking. It is a dream he has consigned to fantasy. “I can’t see me being able to go back,” he says.

Continue reading...

Human Nature by Lucas Foglia review – into the wild

Man’s impact on the planet is revealed in Foglia’s dramatic portraits of people interacting with the natural world

“I grew up on a small farm, 30 miles east of New York City,” writes Lucas Foglia in his short introduction to Human Nature. “Growing our food and bartering, my family felt shielded from the strip malls and suburbs around us... In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded out fields and blew down the oldest trees in the woods. On the news, scientists linked the storm to climate change caused by human activity. I realised that if humans are changing the weather, then there is no place on Earth unaltered by people.”

In this context, Foglia’s choice of title is an interesting one. Is he suggesting that human nature is essentially destructive? Or that nature itself is now shaped by human agency, whether it’s the melting polar icecaps or America’s last remaining protected ...

From ging-e-jonga to the Quangle Wangle Quee: the animal world of Edward Lear

Edward Lear’s songs and poetry were inspired by his love of animals, and his ravishing drawings captured their beauty. Jenny Uglow celebrates a humorist who felt himself not really ‘one of us’

In late 1830, writing a quick verse to a friend, the teenage Edward Lear broke off to “go to my dinner”:

For all day I’ve been a–
way at the West End,
Painting the best end
Of some vast Parrots
As red as new carrots, –
(They are at the museum, –
When you come you shall see ’em,–)
I do the head and neck first; –
And ever since breakfast
I’ve had one bun merely!
So – yours quite sincerely
E.L.

Continue reading...

Universe review: our starry night, seen from all angles

A new Phaidon photobook draws from the worlds of astronomy and art to create a complete, beautiful picture of how we see space and ourselves within it

• View a gallery of more images from Universe

Many poetic descriptions of the universe have found their way into print over the millennia that humankind has been fascinated with outer space. The starry vault, the firmament, the void, heaven – all express something of the awe and mystery we naturally feel when confronted with infinity.

Perhaps the most apparently incongruous, yet simultaneously most appropriate description is to be found in the works of William Herschel, the 18th-century astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus. He called the universe a “luxuriant garden”.

Continue reading...