Getting kids to think about the world before GPS navigation is like trying to explain a rotary phone. You can talk until your face is blue, and they’ll stare at you with that dreaded slack jaw and unconsciously fiddle with their iPhone.
What’s a parent to do? Instead of waxing poetic about why it was (in so many ways) better in the “OLD days,” why not have some fun introducing them to a vision of the world that they’ll immediately recognize as incorrect, and watch their faces screw up?
A new exhibit at the Getty Research Institute — “Connecting Seas: A Visual History of Discoveries and Encounter” at the Getty Research Institute (at the Getty Center) through April 13 — can help you do this, and with the help of beloved childrens’ book author Cornelia Funke, you’re on your way to a grand adventure. Funke is an award-winning author best known for her popular series The Inkworld Trilogy. Ms. Funke lives in LA and just so happens to spend a lot of time in the Getty’s Research Institute, where she finds inspiring material about history, legends, and faraway places among its special collections. Here’s her cool author website (and have fun clicking around).
Meet William Dampier – a guy who describes himself as “pirate, adventurer, explorer and ghost since 1715”. He’s the creation of Ms. Funke and the folks at Guillermo del Toro’s Mirada studio. (This creative pairing also has a new, critically acclaimed story app called Mirror World, the world’s first living story book, which is also worth checking out).
Funke has penned a special guide, narrated by Dampier, to help kids navigate the exhibit.
Connecting Seas is a natural project for Funke to take on. She has imagined a pirate who haunts the Research Institute, searching for clues to the treasures of the exhibit — offering access to young visitors that helps the “magical things to tell stories, whispering with the voices of the dead”. It’s hardly macabre – instead, Dampier offers a colorful treasure hunt through the beautiful, new galleries. This space has never been used as a gallery until now, and it’s all shiny and beautiful to behold).
Along the treasure hunt, kids will search for items such as an engraved black pearl shell, an etching of a mummified head, a Portugese Box Compass and a Spanish coin from a sunken ship.
Parents will appreciate the luscious maps — including some in Chinese — and can take some time explaining that a muti-volumed set of engravings and articles commissioned by Napoleon (“Description de l’Egypte”) was all the French had for information about the world (i.e. our Internet) for many, many years. You can look at the amazing document online now (click here) but a set of original volumes are in the exhibit.
In fact, parents will need to do a good bit of explaining the complex racial issues that arise when any items from the Colonial period are on display. As a quote explains in the third section of the gallery, “Toys aren’t as innocent as they look”. Here you’ll see French and German board games pitting kids against each other in a race for Empire. It’s RISK but with racial overtones.
The exhibit ends with artwork from a few contemporary artists (such as Kara Walker) whose work addresses the injustices of slavery and the colonial heritage of many nations. Kids will enjoy seeing early Verascope images depicting African villagers, viewed through a large optical device that provides 3D like perspective.
As always, the exhibit gift shop is also loads of fun — especially when it comes to the real fun of imagining the world before the precise instruments — GPS and photography – that our kids take for granted today. After all, what good is a world in which you can’t imagine a sea monster?