Shreyas Kulkarni
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Off with their filters; Vice World News and Dentsu Webchutney take on the British Museum’s tour with 'The Unfiltered History Tour’

The immersive tour focuses on disputed artefacts at the museum and has voices from the land where they belonged play tour guides and tell us their stories about these items.

History is rooted in fact. That’s wishful thinking because the history we know or read is by the design of the powerful, of the victors of war and battle, of the ones who annex. It is them who write what happened and when the generations of the future look in retrospect, they quite often see a biased picture of what really happened that day.

Great Britain, to this day, remains the only nation to have enjoyed near-complete domination over this world. Throughout its campaign of colonisation, not only did it become rulers of nations but of countless objects of unquantifiable value it usurped from its colonies.

All these artefacts found their way to the British Museum in London; the warehouse of stolen goods if one were to think of it. The place is a history buff’s dream. Even Imhotep from 'The Mummy Returns' movie was brought to this place so that he could come back to life and rule over Earth once again. Once again, he was in London, England.

But, for all the museum’s value to lovers of history, society, archaeology, and discovery, there is a dark side to it— the disputed artefacts.

Some of these artefacts include the Rosetta Stone, the Hoa Hakananai, the Amravati Marbles, the Gweagal Shield, and the Parthenon Marbles.

Several nation governments are in touch with the museum over artefacts they believe belongs to their people; some governments want the items back while some have different wants.

And while they are at it, Vice World News along with Dentsu Webchutney has a 10- episode podcast, 'The Unfiltered History Tour' that shines a light on 10 such disputed items on display along with an audio and video immersive tour using Instagram filters that challenges the traditional tour a visitor is offered at the British Museum.

"Many times, we would put a filter up for review and it would return saying the demo video is shocking, disrespectful, sensational… So we would go about testing the filter again.”
Binaifer Dulani

Users scan objects including the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon Marbles and Benin Bronzes to unlock an augmented reality, which steps back in time to show the moment these items were removed.

“On one hand, the future of all these artefacts is still in conversation and while that is happening, their history continues to be narrated by two British voices in the official tour,” explains Binaifer Dulani, creative director at Dentsu Webchutney and says the team felt that this part of it needed to change and so what this tour does is “it gives people from the countries where these artefacts belong a chance to play tour guide in an incredibly immersive way.”

Off with their filters; Vice World News and Dentsu Webchutney take on the British Museum’s tour with 'The Unfiltered History Tour’

The bone of contention here is the voice that shines a light on these disputed artefacts. One could say a bit of the soul gets lost when a British voice narrates their history than a voice belonging to the country where these artefacts belong.

Education was the one intention behind the campaign she tells us. Through the tour, museum visitors are likely to learn what neither the British Museum nor the British textbooks are teaching openly and "that is about colonialism and the intergenerational trauma societies from whom these items were usurped".

This campaign, however, is not the first of its kind. In what one can term a ‘predecessor’, Vice Media’s ‘Empires of Dirt’ video series hosted by Vice UK's executive editor Zing Tsjeng told us the stories of the British Empire’s impact on countries and their fabric of societies. The last episode of the series focused on the British Museum and whether museums should return their stolen objects.

“We were inspired by the episode on museums in Zing's series,” reveals PG Aditiya, Dentsu Webchutney’s chief creative officer. He tells us one of the most vital aspects they discovered whilst working on this campaign was that “all protests, conversations, and everything you see or hear about the museum happens outdoors. Even the Empires of Dirt as a series had to be shot outside the museum.”

Imagine you are a visitor to the museum and you know a lot is happening outside. But, once you step inside you are supposed to absorb this narrative it gives you and “that was something we felt needed correction,” remarks the chief creative officer.

At the start of our conversation, Aditiya had remarked on how the entire campaign’s preparation happened under the shadow of the pandemic and its lockdown(s). So getting all the research in place, convincing the right folks to lend their voice to the podcasts and videos, and ensuring the tech behind The Unfiltered History Tour work right must have been a Herculean task.

Dulani: "A very small portion of our 100+ team."
Dulani: "A very small portion of our 100+ team."

Some of the people who lent their voices are Tarita Alarcón Rapu, former Governor of Rapa Nui; Anuraag Saxena, founder, India Pride Project; Petros Apostolakis, Human rights activist; Heba Abd el Gawad, Member, Egypt's Dispersed Heritage: Artefacts of Excavation, UCL Researcher.

Binaifer Dulani and PG Aditiya
Binaifer Dulani and PG Aditiya

Getting these people on board was the first part of the project remarks Dulani and tells us that while they were pushing the narrative in their own way and had different expectations, “they saw merit in what we were trying to build… Vice’s journalistic rigour helped them get on broad sooner.”

One person Aditiya mentions played a crucial role in getting the illustrations right was Shaleen Wadhwani, an Art Historian and Cultural Researcher. Most of the illustrations you will see when taking the tour are the first visual depictions of these moments in history, from the standpoint of the home countries. She ensured all teams maintained complete accuracy in visual details “It was interesting to have Wadhwani play creative director to all our illustrations,” remarks Aditiya.

He tells us about an interesting point Wadhwani made about the European way of depicting their “activities in the rest of the world” wherein they won all their battles easily or with minimal resistance. On seeing such illustrations, she would tell the team “no, show them fighting because there was a fight."

The voices, the illustrations, the stories made one part of the campaign. The other half belonged to technology that made this tour possible.

This concept of an interactive tour is not new says Aditiya but, “it is done with the museum sanctioning it”. Once you have the permission, you can ask the authorities to move a painting from this room to that room “because that one has better light”, you can ask them to place the sculpture here not there… This tour is not that.

The team sent a person (Emi Eleode) to the museum where she would test different versions (Instagram filter) and said things like, "you know what, they moved this marble from this room to that room and that one has a reflection so we can't do anything".

Taking the Gweagal Shield as an example, Aditiya tells us, the last time it was tested for the tour was in July or August when it was a little sunny. The project went live in December and London is damp at the moment. “We did not get much light coming from the windows around it for the Instagram filter to identify the shield. We had to take different images based on what the weather of that day is supposed to be like,” he reveals.

All this happened while England went in and out of a lockdown. Each time the British Museum opened, we would realise some artefacts are not on display anymore and that would need revision says Dulani and “many times, we would put a filter up for review and it would return saying the demo video is shocking, disrespectful, sensational… So we would go about testing the filter again.”

And speaking of again, the microsite, where the podcasts and the videos are hosted, asks which museum would you like to visit again with such a tour. I say the Vatican Archives. What do you think?

Credits:

Team Webchutney:

Aabhaas Shreshtha - Creative Director

Anjali Thomas - Senior Account Manager

Amey Chodankar - Creative Director

Ananya Rao - Creative Strategist & Manager - Corporate Strategy

Ashwin Palkar - ECD

Binaifer Dulani - Creative Director

Farishte Irani - Copy Supervisor

Gautam Reghunath - CEO

Geetika Sood - Associate Creative Director

Gerson Pearson - Associate Group Head - Video and Mixed reality

Gurbaksh Singh - Chief Innovation officer

Ishtaarth Dalmia - VP, Strategy

Karishma Changroth - Group Account Director

Karthik Nambiar - Art Director

Kushal Lalvani - Group Head - Copy

Manasi Sheth - Associate Art Director

Manish Joseph - Senior Group Head - Motion Graphics

Meghna Yesudas - Senior Copywriter

Niranjan Raghu - Group Head - Video

PG Aditiya - CCO

Priyanka Borah - Senior VP

Rahul Sharma - Senior Lead Developer

Rakesh Bairwa- Senior Director - Production

Shreya Vivek Arora - Sr. Visualizer

Stuti Sudha - Senior Group Head - Copy

Tanya Paul - Group Head Art

Vaishakh Kolaprath - Associate Art Director

Vignesh Praveen - Sr. Video Editor and Animator

Research Consultant:

Shaleen Wadhwani - Art Historian & Cultural Researcher

Filter Developer:

Kalpit Dwivedi - Pixel Party

Field Researcher:

Emi Eleode

3D Modelling and Sculpting:

Prashant Bhikadia

Shanel Moraes

Director: (Launch Promo)

Ronak Chugh

Sound Design (Launch Promo)

Ateesh Chattopadhyay

Music: (Launch Promo)

Sameer Rahat

Freelancer - Illustration:

Sachin Ghanekar

Team VICE:

John Montoya - Senior Director, Audience & Content Strategy

Zing Tsjeng - VICE UK Executive Editor

Podcast Production:

Produced by Jesse Lawson

With research from Marthe Van Der Wolf

Contributors:

Anuraag Saxena, Founder, India Pride Project

Heba Abd el Gawad, Member, Egypt's Dispersed Heritage: Artefacts of Excavation, UCL Researcher

Tarita Alarcón Rapu, Former Governor of Rapa Nui

Sergio Rapu, Documentary Filmmaker from Rapa Nui

Petros Apostolakis, Human rights activist

Claire G Coleman, Author and Member, Aboriginal Arts Consultancy

Rodney Kelly, Restitution activist

Victor Ehikhamenor, Prominent director and artist

Hari Shakur, Historian and member, New Afrikan Independence Movement

Ernest Domfe, Artist

Fu Yiwen, Hong Kong-based broadcaster and feature writer

Darrel Blake, Organiser, Black History Tours in London

Sharifa Balfour, Museologist and Curator of Institute of Jamaica

Max Joseph, Human Rights Activist

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