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Echoes of a Vanished World

Echoes of a Vanished World

These are the kind of photographs that you will never be able to take again – literally, as some of them are more than 50 years old and the places and people they portray no longer exist. As a founder and president of Survival International, the world’s leading organisation supporting tribal peoples, Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE is a fascinating and inspiring personality and his eye-opening exhibition at the National Theatre is well worth a visit.


The collection of photographs and artefacts from his travels between 1958 and 1978 beautifully portrays people and places from Burma (Myanmar) through to the Sahara, Indonesian West Papua and Borneo, to Brazil. Visitors can explore the Tuareg sandals (ératim) from the Air Mountains in the Sahara, Penan rattan carrying baskets from Borneo (1977/78), arrows from Asmat tribes in West Papua and many other objects, as well as the explorer’s diaries from his journeys.

We learn that most of the Asmat men had perforated septums, that Dani women would cut off part or the whole of their fingers whenever a husband, child or loved relation died, that the ritual of ear-stretching in Indonesia starts at a very young age, that half the adult Metyktire men had wooden discs in their lower lips and that nakedness in 70s Brazil was rather… relative.


The photograph of the sandstone seated Thandawgya Buddha from Burma in 1958 is truly one of a kind, as the statue built in 1284 was decapitated in an earthquake which hit the area in 1975.

The National Theatre proves to be a fitting venue for the collection. Its buzz of theatre lovers’ exclamations, the sound of live music coming from the downstairs lobby, the smell of coffee and all other signs of life as we know it, is contrasted with the black and white photographs from exotic journeys through time and space. Truly exhilarating experience recommended to all travellers, art enthusiasts and those interested in indigenous peoples and their cultures.

Olivier Exhibition Space, National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7452 3000
Opening hours: 14 January – 10 March 2013
Open during building opening hours:
Mon-Sat: 9.30am – 11pm Sun (when open): 12 noon – 6pm
Admission: FREE