I went to the identity exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, Euston about a month ago. It was all about what influences or determines the sense of who we are.
The exhibition explores the idea of identity by having 9 rooms dedicated to 8 people’s lives (one room for twins). In each room there is a gathering of information about how that person represents something about identity.
The more personal rooms are the most intriguing. I spent the most time pouring over the diary entries of Samuel Pepys who obsessively wrote about his life and often wrote his observations in code. As you explore this room you will find Big Brother’s diary room chair, the diary entries of the suffragettes and a video exploring memory loss of a man who can play the piano yet forgets who he is every 5 minutes.
This issue can be more complex and difficult for some people more than others. What I found interesting is that even for those who usually write diaries for personal use, there is always a thought that someone else may read them. This makes you question whether thinking about external perceptions is unavoidable when constructing your identity. Samuel Pepys left a code to his diary in his library which was found years later – he always wanted someone to read them.
The exhibition does not really give you any answers but it does present the dilemma we face when thinking about our sense of ‘self’.
Is it something within that makes us who we are or is it that we are constantly steering every moment of our lives thinking about how people see us? This is particularly relevant when one starts consider how much we publicly broadcast what we are doing on Facebook, Twitter, etc in the digital space (I am doing it now by telling you about this!)
The exhibition was good, you should check it out. I think my only criticism was that the theme could also have been explored through some more modern-day ideas too. It could have considered how the economic situation has led to an identity crisis with people losing sight of their purpose having been found jobless. How social pressures can lead people to do strange things when their image is constantly in the public eye. Even more so how having a multicultural society which one would deem to be liberating, can be more damaging to those that can’t define exactly who they are.
We do think about this question every day whether consciously or subconsciously it constantly shapes our movements, actions and self image. It is sometimes liberating not to have to deal with this…maybe we should dress up more often?