Hackney, the London borough where I live and work is known among other things for being a haven for the fashionable, outlandish and creative. Like many urban geographic regions, Hackney has its own local history museum, centrally located and visited primarily (in my observation) by school groups.
The Museum’s permanent display comprises objects and images that tell the stories of the area, its diverse inhabitants, and how it is changing. The museum also exhibits work by contemporary artists engaging with the area and related themes.
On prior visits to the Hackney Museum, I was pleased to see textile and dress artefacts on display, and a fair amount of focus on the history of the garment trades in East London. Currently, I was even more pleased to learn that its current exhibition Stamford Hill Mods: The Genesis of Mark Bolan takes a closer look at the lifestyle, fashion and music of this culture within the borough of Hackney.
The display itself consists mainly of a series of information panels that focus on aspects of the Mod culture: Music, fashion, local spots, and Marc Bolan who epitomised the mod style in Hackney in the 1960s and later went on to front the band T-Rex.
He is a much revered local icon, and a quick look online reveals that the exclusion of his music from the Olympic Opening Ceremony met with local disapproval.
However, prior to visiting this exhibit, I knew little of Bolan as a mod icon, and despite interest in British fashion subculutures, I was unaware of the specific mod presence in my adopted borough.
I applaud the Hackney Museum for bringing this section of an otherwise well – hackneyed – fashion topic to light. The exhibit’s display of clothing worn by Hackney mods, and their remembrances is standard but engaging.
The inclusion of a Vespa, and music memorabilia and printed ephemera round out the neat display but is frankly less than spectacular.
Even though there was not an overage of information to digest, I found the panels hard to read and was unsure where to begin reading them. A guest book doubled as a scrapbok of very interesting research images and photocopies of clippings, but unfortunately the book was sloppy and the images weren’t attributed.
I did get the impression that much research and time was put in to the exhibition project, but I think better display could have coaxed me to focus on the key points, and ultimately to learn more.
Upon leaving, I was left with notes to myself for further research, and questions as to why the excitement and uniqueness of the scene didn’t seem to come through in the presentation. Really, my dissatisfaction has come mainly from a desire to know more about both the mods and the fashion heritage of Hackney.
Could this project have been paired with a contemporary photography exhibit of present day mods? Could there have been oral history interview to hear? Could an online exhibition have expanded the possibility for research into the topic?
Pragmatically, I can surmise that these things all may have been beneficial but perhaps not possibly due to funding. There then, another aspect of life in Hackney. A borough rapidly changing and growing but still struggling to honour its culture and uniqueness despite economic lack.
My visit was not on the whole an unhappy one, but it was enlightening in that it called to my attention the work of my own loca museum and their engagement with social history and dress, and what social history museums inherently address.
Stamford Hill mods: the genesis of Marc Bolan
7 November 2012 – January 2013
Technology And Learning Centre
1 Reading Lane
Nearest Tube: Hackney Central