The American Museum of Natural History invites you to rediscover colour

Rob DeSalle curates an exhibition, Nature of Colour, which allows the audience to understand colour and all its implications through interactive art installations.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Sep 26, 2020

When I was just a tiny toddler, we would visit my hometown in the south Indian state of Kerala and I always knew when we entered the territory because of the bright red communist flags plastered all over the place. Of course, my grandfather was convinced that I was a child prodigy and thought I was able to read because I could also recognise my parent’s bank and other places but the fact is that I was not reading words. I was reading colours and palettes and creating associations. In fact, for a long time I believed that the communist flag was the official state flag! However, the ultimate take away from this is not that I am far away from being a prodigy, rather the fact that colour is something deeply rooted in our memory, language and culture. In recognition of this intrinsic connection the humans have with colour as a visual stimulus, the American Museum of Natural History has curated an interactive exhibition, which allows viewers to experience and understand first-hand what the potential of colour really is.

Colour comes from light. But what is light? You can think of light as an electromagnetic wave, or a ripple in an electromagnetic field | Nature of Colour | American Museum of Natural History | STIRworld
Colour comes from light. But what is light? You can think of light as an electromagnetic wave, or a ripple in an electromagnetic field Image: Courtesy of D. Finnin and AMNH

Nature of Colour is curated to celebrate the museum’s 150th anniversary. The exhibition opened on March 9, 2020 and will continue to be on display till August 8, 2021. The exhibition is curated by Rob DeSalle, who is also the curator of American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) division of Invertebrate Zoology and is divided into different rooms and foci. The exhibition starts with a room dedicated to the question, ‘What is colour?’. This takes visitors back to the basic physical properties of light and colour, allowing them to “paint” with light with a floor-to-ceiling interactive installation made up of lights, mirrors and filters. This allows for people to see and do while they learn making the experience educational while also being visually engaging.

The behaviour of light can be surprising and beautiful. Beams of light can be split into different colours. Visitors to the exhibition can arrange mirrors and filters to make their own light art using filters and mirrors | Nature of Colour at American Museum of Natural History | STIRworld
The behaviour of light can be surprising and beautiful. Beams of light can be split into different colours. Visitors to the exhibition can arrange mirrors and filters to make their own light art using filters and mirrors Image: Courtesy of D. Finnin and AMNH

Museums are places of public access, allowing for individuals of all ages and social groups to experience something novel. The fact that the audience is so wide-ranging at AMNH makes the task of curating an exhibition like this challenging but also a space of abundant opportunity to create an intervention in people’s understanding of a subject, in this case colour. DeSalle organises the experience to approach the idea of colour from different tangents. After laying the groundwork with the first room, he takes the audience further into spaces that encourage the viewer to better understand how colour is deeply embedded into our cultural philosophy as well as our biology. Colours and palettes can evoke emotions from deep within us. How does this happen? Is it because of the way we are socialised? Why do the same colours have vastly different associations in different cultures? Nature of Colour takes the viewer on a deep exploration, encouraging them to look inward and recognise their own physical and emotional responses to colours by using interactive installations to gamify the process. The room dedicated to this process is called ‘Feeling Colour’ and also the ‘Yellow Room’. Similarly, the other green, red and blue rooms are devoted to understanding colour in nature, meaning in colour and making colour.

  • Colours affect our mood, our perceptions, and even our behaviour. In the yellow room, visitors will be invited to explore how colours make them feel by playing with a video interactive | Nature of Colour | American Museum Of Natural History | STIRworld
    Colours affect our mood, our perceptions, and even our behaviour. In the yellow room, visitors will be invited to explore how colours make them feel by playing with a video interactive Image: Courtesy of D. Finnin and AMNH
  • Which colors make you feel good? What colours do you find relaxing—or invigorating? Step into the yellow room to explore how colours make you feel | Nature of Colour at American Museum Of Natural History | STIRworld
    Which colors make you feel good? What colours do you find relaxing—or invigorating? Step into the yellow room to explore how colours make you feel Image: Courtesy of D. Finnin and AMNH

The exhibition Nature of Colour is explorative in many ways, taking the viewer on an adventure exploring our outward and inward connections with colour. The journey enables the audience to build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with colour using fun activities suitable for anyone to not just be a spectator from afar but fully immerse themselves and gain insight by playing and participating.

  • Visitors at the Nature of Colour are encouraged to ‘paint’ without the mess just by moving their hands in a floor-to-ceiling colour play interactive | Nature of Colour | American Museum of Natural History | STIRworld
    Visitors at the Nature of Colour are encouraged to ‘paint’ without the mess just by moving their hands in a floor-to-ceiling colour play interactive Image: Courtesy of R. Mickens and AMNH
  • The Nature of Colour includes a selection from the more than 4,500 portraits that Dass has captured in 35 cities across 20 different countries | Nature of Colour at American Museum of Natural History | STIRworld
    The Nature of Colour includes a selection from more than 4,500 portraits that Dass has captured in 35 cities across 20 different countries Image: Courtesy of D. Finnin and AMNH

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