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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Banner with the words 'COLOUR: Art Science and Power / opening July 2022' against a zoomed in, brightly coloured image of a feathered headdress, in bright reds, yellows and blues.

26 July 2022 - 9 April 2023

Li Ka Shing Gallery, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Free entry

About the exhibition

COLOUR: Art, Science & Power is an exciting new exhibition opening at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on 26 July 2022. The displays harness the allure and power of colour to inspire reflection and creativity.

The exhibition integrates insights from the arts, humanities and the sciences, bringing together extraordinary objects and artworks from different times and places. COLOUR showcases remarkable and diverse collections from across the University of Cambridge museums, libraries and colleges. Material on display includes paintings, artists materials, medieval manuscripts, ancient Egyptian figures, African sculpture, Amazonian feather headdress, textiles, a royal Hawaiian cape made of hundreds of thousands of shimmering feathers, scientific instruments, rainbow flags, iridescent shells, mineral specimens and much more!

'Ahu 'ula, Royal Hawaiian Feather Cloak. MAA Z 6140
Colour Wheel. 19th century. Used to test colour perception. Whipple Museum of the History of Science 4421


COLOUR aims to engage diverse audiences and encourage people to explore different ways that colours are perceived, experienced and given meaning. After the dark days of the pandemic, the exhibition provides an opportunity for creative activities, sensory engagement and fun interactives. Perception quizzes reveal the extent to which colour is in the mind, yet colours are also material substances that we experience and interact with in our daily lives.

Preparations have been developed in consultation with numerous specialists and Indigenous colleagues from around the world as well as with local community and student groups.


COLOUR is organised into overlapping themes.

Underlying the exhibition is a focus on materiality and the different ways that people use colour to make sense of the world around them. Colour influences our emotions, activities and relations with others. Colour has the power to enchant and transform both people and things.  

The Experience of Colour is highlighted at the entrance with a specially commissioned artwork, Kaleidoscope, by the Cambridge Yarn Collective, whose work foregrounds the association between colour and wellbeing.

The Perception of Colour juxtaposes scientific ways of understanding colour with Indigenous perspectives, from Newton's use of prisms to reveal colours in apparently white light to an Australian Aboriginal bark painting depicting intimate connections between land, colour and ancestral power.

Colour & Desire explores the enormous effort that people over millennia have put into producing and obtaining particular colours. Colour has been laboriously extracted from the earth, plants and animals, squeezed from the glands of molluscs and from the 1850s produced from coal tar. The processes involved are often highly skilled, smelly and sometimes dangerous. Local economies have been built on the basis of colour production and undermined by shifts in fashion. 

The Power of Colour reveals the potency of different coloured substances. Colour also has profound and far-reaching political implications. Particular colours have been identified with and often restricted to political elites. Colour can be used as a means of empowerment or deployed to categorise and discriminate against particular groups of people.

The Explosion of Colour: With the development of cheap commercial dyes, most people today have access to a seemingly infinite range of colours produced, classified and marketed by multi-national chemical corporations. The exhibition concludes by inviting visitors to reflect on how this explosion of colour has transformed people’s experience, creativity and understanding of the world around them.


Colouring Beyond The Lines: from the experts - coming soon

Is there cactus blood in your coffee? Why is that blue so vivid? Explore more in a series of short blog posts, written by experts from the University of Cambridge and beyond.



From the University of Cambridge Museums - coming soon

COLOUR is a cross-disciplinary exhibition, drawing from the collections of museums and galleries across Cambridge. Explore resources and find out more about objects from UCM collections, from Newton's prisms to Emma Amos' art.

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.