Dragons: not mystical, but academic

By Asma Chaudhry

The Royal Alberta Museum is in the midst of an exciting summer exhibition that draws on people’s fascination with dragons in a fun yet academic way. Running until Sept. 14, the series opened mid-June and is showcasing an exhibition that originated in the Natural History Museum of Paris and travelled around the globe. The museum has a mandate for dealing with both natural and cultural history, which makes the dragon–living in both of those worlds–the perfect creature to explore.

“[The series] covers the entire range of everything to do with dragons–the cultural aspects, the natural history aspects, subject matter that might appeal more to adults, subject matter that appeals more to children,” said Royal Alberta Museum director of communications Chris Robinson.

The Dragons, Between Science and Fiction exhibit has strong French roots and is presented in both English and French, something visitors have asked for, Robinson said. International exhibitions have been brought to the Albertan museum for the past 20 years.

“It’s nothing new for us to bring in feature exhibitions,” said Robinson. “We have a couple of galleries dedicated to these travelling exhibitions that people enjoy seeing and might not see otherwise.”

Unique to the Royal Alberta Museum exhibition is a special lecture series Sunday afternoons called “Here be dragons . . . and other creatures” that will be running until Sept. 7. The 10 topics lectured on include The Role and Symbolism of Dragons in the Harry Potter Series by Edmund Kern to Dragons and Cryptozoology by Loren Coleman. Dr. Paula Swart gave a talk about mythical creatures in different cultures of Asia, including the dragon–which she says is regarded as a symbol of wisdom, power and goodness.

Noticing an important theme after looking at First Nations and Inuit art depicting water spirits, Swart directed her talk towards water and the importance of fertility to cultures rather than the importance of creatures. Creatures, such as dragons, represent various aspects of water or weather that revolve around the agricultural cycle in Asian cultures. Illustrators made drawings of images she was showing during her talk and proved to her the interest held by her audience.

“If we talk about these mythical creatures, we think, ‘Oh well, this is something from the past,’” said Swart. “But it’s alive and well in Asia. We see it in theatre, in story telling, in the art, fiction, these creatures are everywhere. You can’t dismiss it as something from the past, it’s right here around us, which I find fascinating.”

Tickets with valid student ID cost $7 at the door.

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