Charmed I’m sure

Touted as an exploration of the space between ‘faith morality and healing,’ the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition programme Miracles and Charms looks at what it calls ‘the human responses to chance and suffering.’

Although these things sound at odds with one another – non-sequiturs – they do appear to have been reconciled and explained rather well through Miracles and Charms.  

It’s also another sign that the institution’s exploration of the liminal or marginal abounds, having already brought us Dirt – essentially filth at its most literal – and Elements, which included an Oxygen bar among other things.

Miracles and Charms is split into two shows, Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings and Felicity Powell: Charmed Lives.

Votive on tin, 1862

Source: Credit:Museo Nacional de Historia – INAH

Votive on tin, 1862

The first will feature over 100 votive paintings borrowed from Mexican museums. Votives are small paintings usually formed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the snap-shot of humility when someone asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster, or even death.

Votive on tin, 1840

Source: Credit:Museo Nacional de Historia – INAH

Votive on tin, 1840

In the context of other images, photographs, news reports, film and interview and artifacts the exhibition will explain the deep rooted traditions of votive in Mexico.

Simultaneously Charmed Lives, curated by artist Felicity Powell, looks at 400 amulets from Henry Wellcome’s collection to be displayed with 20 works by the artist.

Amulet from the Lovett Archive

Source: Credit:Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

Amulet from the Lovett Archive

The amulets including coins, carved shells, dead animals and decorated letters were collected by folklorist Edward Lovett who is understood to have collected the objects by night from London mudlarks, barrow men and sailors.

amulet from the Lovett Archive

Source: credit:Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

amulet from the Lovett Archive

‘The potency of the charms is invested through rituals of hope and habit’ says the Wellcome Collection, adding ‘Each amulet on display has long been separated from its wearer but collectively they form a repository for the anxieties, reassurances and superstitions of the city and its occupants.’

Amulet from the Lovett Archive

Source: Credit:Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

Amulet from the Lovett Archive

Powell’s work by comparison looks at objects as a source of comfort and compensation – miniature models and paintings captured at the point of change metapmorphasising into other things.

Amulet from the Lovett Archive

Source: Credit:Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Amulet from the Lovett Archive

It is here that Powell hopes visitors will dwell on the space between the real and imagined. 

Miracles and Charms runs from 6 October 2011 – 26 February 2012 at the Wellcome Collection, 215 Euston Road, London NW1

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