June 26, 2023, by UoN School of English

How working on the ‘Plants & Prayers’ exhibition gave me post-uni clarity

As someone studying a non-vocational degree (BA History of Art and English), I am often inundated with questions about what I plan to do when I graduate. What people expect to hear is ‘teaching’ or ‘journalism’ or, as my parents probably hope, ‘a PGDL course’ so I can follow in the footsteps of my hotshot solicitor sister. For the longest time, I have responded with a tentative ‘I’m not sure…’ and redirected the conversation but, after taking part in the Excellence in Science (EIS) Internship, I have a better idea of what my future entails.

I came across the EIS programme at the end of my first year whilst trying to get through the mound of emails that had piled up during deadline season. First noticing the word ‘science’, I almost did not click on the email. However, I am glad that I did, or I would have missed out on the amazing experience of working with Dr Christina Lee, Dr Erin Connelly, and their fabulous team on the ongoing ‘Plants and Prayers’ exhibition at Weston Gallery.

My role for this project was to conduct research surrounding the exhibition’s theme of pre-1900 traditional medicine, as well as devising ideas on improving its outreach amongst diverse demographics. I was given free rein to implement my different ideas, including writing a pamphlet about challenging colonial attitudes towards African traditional medicine.

I gained so much from working on this project, including making new contacts, developing research skills, and learning more about a subject of personal interest. One of the highlights was visiting Manuscripts and Special Collections on King’s Meadow Campus, where Christina and I filmed promotion videos for the exhibition. It was so fascinating to hear Christina talk about artefacts such as Elena Mundy’s Recipe Book (c.1728) and the Wollaton Antiphonal (15th century) – her insight is extensive, and her passion is infectious! I was also able to have a look at the vast manuscript collection, but with knowledge bursting out of 18 miles of stocked shelves, it is safe to say that I barely made a dent.

The internship was flexible, with me predominantly working at home and attending meetings on University Park campus. Though it initially felt quite daunting to be tasked with completing independent research, I soon found a system that worked well for me. It was also reassuring to know that, if I ever needed it, someone would always be at the other end of an email to help.

I think that the best part about being part of this exhibition was working alongside a kind, intelligent team. From my supervisor Christina to the archivists at Manuscripts and Special Collections, everyone made me feel welcomed and like an integral part of the project. It made me realise that, whatever I decide to do next, I want the excitement and encouragement that I shared with the ‘Plants & Prayers’ team to follow!

– Mutiat Akamo

The Plants & Prayers exhibition will be at the Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts, University Park until 03 September. Admission is free. You can find more information by following this link.

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