School for the Creative and Cultural Industries



The inaugural exhibition in the UCL Culture Lab, made by a team of curators, researchers, students and community partners, explores the meaning of power through diverse collections of University College London, alongside everyday objects from our homes and communities.

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UCL Culture Lab
Marshgate, UCL East

Open to the public Wednesday afternoons 2 - 5pm, the first Saturday of the month at 11am - 4pm, or by appointment.
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What does Power mean to you? Is it something you have? Is it something you do? How is it made? How does power reside in people, in objects, and in institutions? Is there good power or bad power? 

We invite you to consider the ways in which objects can illustrate, and embody the power of emotions, of nature, of technology, of protest, of state profiling, of heritage, and of place. This is an invitation to consider the value of objects and collections in not only teaching us about important ideas, but also in making the world we live in together.


The power of materials

A selection of powerful objects from the Materials Library, a handling collection of lumps, chunks and jars full of materials that emphasise the importance of sensory experience in learning about materials, their properties, and possibilities and shows us the power of materials to craft and engineer our world.

The power of nature

This theme explores both human power over nature, as well as the power of nature to evolve and adapt in our changing environment. There is an astonishing diversity of life on Earth and the relationships between species are complex. These relationships are changing as our world evolves into an increasingly more urban and technologically dependent place. As we bear witness to our impact on nature we are able, by understanding its interconnectedness, to find solutions from it.

The power of place

Place can have a powerful hold on us. When it comes to London, we might have favourite landmarks, areas we call home, memories that we cherish. This suggests the potential of our surroundings to inspire emotion, influence our behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and create a sense of belonging. This theme explores how London, the place we in, has been claimed and reclaimed; imagined and re-imagined.

The power of technology

How has print helped disrupt the hierarchies of power? The technologies behind the printed word and publication have been used since the 1400s to share ideologies and garner support for causes. Marginalised groups have employed print to gain influence and affect societal change. For those with privilege, publications are a way to highlight power inequalities to as broad a possible an audience.  

Object lessons

This theme explores some of the ways that we use objects to teach with, and learn from, in the university. Objects are not only useful teachers in the university, they are vital in our everyday lives as powerful tools for thinking and learning across the human life cycle. Babies and children use toys to practice how to behave in the world. By the time we die, our possessions from our clothing to our jewellery will mark out our identities and the relationships that will continue with others once we are gone. Museums, sometimes called “People’s Universities” can become the custodians of these lessons for the general public.  

The power of profiling

What power do objects have to create the identities of individual people? Passports, identity cards and other documents, establish identities for us in ways that powerfully effect our lives, for example by restricting who can cross borders and security barriers, as well as giving the privileges of citizenship. 

The power of heritage

Heritage can bring the past into the present in powerful ways. This case explores how objects from the past can be used as tools of conflict and contestation over identity and belonging, and as vital ways to bring people together. The past is central to the ways we negotiate identity, territory and power. Flags and passports show how heritage becomes a language that people use to determine the boundaries of national identity and community. 

The power of protest

To protest is to publicly reject the way things are. It is a powerful form of collective action in which people come together to stake a claim for a different way of seeing or being in the world. Universities have been key locations from which protest emerges, as sites in which knowledge is not only transmitted but produced and challenged. At UCL, students and staff have protested issues from racism to sexism, tuition fees to international wars, often opposing the institution in doing so. This has resulted in changes inside and outside the walls of the university. In this theme, we show a range of material from protests taking place at UCL between 1903 and the present day.  

The power of emotions

Objects have the power to both convey and channel the full range of human emotions. They can communicate sorrow, joy or fear but they also allow people to project their own emotions onto them. Objects can be seen to have “biopsychosocial” value: they can play an important role in making people feel a certain way. This can be by inspiring a sense of awe and beauty, for example when looking at a work of art or a vibrantly coloured or intricate natural object. Or it can happen when holding, touching and feeling an object. This theme is dedicated to this dual role of objects as conveyer of, and catalyst for, human emotions. 


Curating Power Collective 

If Loving Madras is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right by Curating Power Curator Paige Michel

What makes us feel powerful is individual and personal, and yet it is related to and constrained by the wider world. The Curating Power Collective is a group of young curators who have developed a series of creative, personal responses to the Culture Lab’s inaugural ‘Power!' exhibition. 

They have intervened in the space to explore, embrace and reclaim what makes them feel powerful through research, objects, creative making, and writing. Their creations are on display in the Culture Lab until September 2024!

Find out more about the Curating Power Collective and meet the curators

The Collective has also curated an online archive of their work, showcasing creative process, poetry readings, playlists, artworks, and digital zines. Explore the digital Curating Power collection.

Collective members are: Kimberly Johnson, Ysabel Hannam, Arzama Hossain, Barakat Omomayowa, Shay Spencer-Noronha, Ashanté Thomas, Matilda Bilon, Paige Michel-Strachan and Emmanuella Bamfo. This work is a result of conversations and workshops delivered by the Culture Lab collections team, curator and manager Johanna Zetterstrom-SharpUCL Special Collections, and artist Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman.

UCL Collections

Explore the UCL collections used in the exhibition:

Further information


  • The Brown Dog memorial by Joseph Whitehead was dismantled by Battersea council in 1910 (at night and in secret) due to the ongoing student protests. This replica shown in the exhibition belongs to Paula S. Owen, author of the novel Little Brown Dog.


The exhibition was lead curated by Haidy Geismar and Johanna Zetterstrom Sharp, with a curatorial team comprising:

  • Andrea Fredrickson (Art Museum)
  • Tannis Davidson (Grant Museum)
  • Rafael Schacter (Department of Anthropology)
  • Sada Mire (Institute of Archaeology)
  • Anna Fineman, Erika Delbecque and Joanna Baines (UCL Special Collections)
  • Thomas Kador, Maia Brown, Catrin Heath, Katya Lee, Natalie Walsh, and Zheyuan Yang (Department of Arts and Sciences)
  • Sarah Wilkes (Materials Library Institute of Making)
  • Leoran Vizner, Alberto Adelantado Calvo, Chloe Colaco Souza, Lindy Tweten, Norah Tapahuasco-Oritz, Devina Dimri, Jemma Jarman (MA Museum Studies, Institute of Archaeology)

Conservation support and curatorial assistance was provided by Delphine Mercier, Camella Ramjet, Ian Carroll, Rhea Evers, Sara Mittica and Emilia Kingham. Thanks also to Christina Macgregor and Sarah Aitcheson of UCL Library Culture, Collections and Open Science. Graphic design was undertaken by Ella Strickland de Souza.