Shaping the Body and the Mind

View of museum display cases densely packed with objects with two bright pink graphic panels visible in the displays.


Shaping the Body and the Mind

Nothing Without Us: Experiences of Disability at the Pitt Rivers Museum 

Human Form in Art Displays, Cases 147, 148A, and 149, Ground Floor


Depictions of the human body show different shapes and behaviours. Do these shapes and behaviours translate into reality? Where might we recognise disability, and what might that tell us?

Fashioning the Mask

Pottery head with a dog-like nose, sharp teeth bared in an open mouth and ears folded back

Ceramic Animal-Masked Head. Pottery, Zapotec, Central Mexico. Purchased by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1948. PRM 1948.3.5B.

I find it interesting that these figures are designed to represent some kind of ideal human. It makes me think about the importance we place on masking; or rather, the importance of masking that is put on us by society. The emotions you can see in this case are, by their very nature, studied. In my early teens, I had to spend a lot of time studying social cues in order to gain access to social spaces. I think most people don’t realise just how much of human interaction is based on rituals. When these things don’t come naturally, you essentially learn them like scripts.

Hannah H., Museum Enjoyer

View the collections entry for this object with zoomable image. 


Clowning Around

A small wooden face mask carved with an open smiling mouth and furrowed brow.

Netsuke of a mask of a man with a pointed beard. Wood, Japan (made before 1920). Donated the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1980. PRM 1980.34.161


A small carved figure showing a woman lying on her side, leaning her head on her elbow, with an infant sat at her chest looking up to her.

Netsuke of a child climbing on a sleeping woman. Ivory, Japan (made before 1939). Donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1980. PRM 1980.34.2566.

Charming and mischievous, these Japanese netsuke helped fasten personal items to a man’s kimono, perhaps giving us a glimpse of their personalities. Fun and play are really important to me and my daughter. Not only for creating joy, but also in helping us learn and communicate with one another. Both these netsuke and the performance masks across from them caught our eyes and made us wonder about all the games they might wish to play.

Sarah and Lucy S., A mother and daughter who love to play!


View the collections entry for the mask netsuke with zoomable image. 

View the collections entry for the woman and child netsuke with zoomable image. 

A Spoonful of Hugs

A spoon carved from wood with a large bowl and two standing figures embracing.

Rice spoon with handle carved with two figures embracing. Wood, Ifugoa, Philippines (made before 1913). Purchased by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1913. PRM 1913.77.13.



Everybody needs care. We love that this spoon - a normal everyday item - lets you feel the embrace with each use.


Sarah and Lucy S., a mother and daughter who give loads of hugs.

View the collections entry for the spoon with zoomable image. 



Ground Floor Plan of Pitt Rivers Museum showing display locations and pink spots highlighting trail stops.

Plan of the museum's ground floor showing the location for these two nearby trail stops in the right corner (southwest) of the main court not far from the gallery doorway to the lift and stairs. One display case faces the outer aisle and is in a large glass box display on wooden legs, and the desktop case immediately in front. The second stop, is behind these display cases, in a desktop case just inside the grid of cases that make up the main court.

This co-produced gallery trail was developed in partnership with the Curating for Change project. Supported by Accentuate and Screen South, the project provides opportunities for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people to pursue a curatorial career in museums.

Find out more about Curating for Change


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Accentuate logo in pink


Screen South Logo


National Lottery Heritage Fund Logo


art fund logo


Arts Council England Logo