A centenary exhibition
The first attempts to summit Everest were one of the best-known stories of the age of empire. George Mallory and Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine died on the mountain. A frenzy of hero worship blew up around their deaths. They were painted as 'brave' adventure heroes who made the 'ultimate sacrifice for the imperial cause. But, 100 years on, we are beginning to re-examine this story.
We worked with the Royal Geographical Society on a new exhibition to mark the centenary of these expeditions. Our team helped shape the core narrative and oversaw the project design and delivery.
Re-examing a narrative that dominated the 20th century
The exhibition unpicks the hugely uncomfortable and incredibly complex social, racial and geopolitical dynamics that underpinned and influenced every step of the expeditions. In doing so, it challenges the Eurocentric hero worship surrounding Mallory and Irvine. Where local labourers — including Tibetans, Sherpa and Bhotiya men and women — were previously cast aside, this exhibition highlights the invaluable contribution that they made to the expeditions.
The exhibition re-evaluates the dominant hero narrative through the lens of Captain John Noel, the official expedition cinematographer. Noel documented the expeditions in incredible detail, giving us a unique 'behind the scenes' insight into the expeditions.
Our design concept hinges on the idea of stepping 'behind the camera' — physically and metaphorically. The story starts with the public-facing content — the films, photography and advertisements that helped create the hero narrative. Then, visitors cross a threshold and delve into 'behind the scenes' content — social structures, racial hierarchies and geopolitical relationships that shaped the expeditions.
Our materiality and colour board took inspiration from the objects and assets - the plywood boxes, full of supplies, that the climbers carried up the mountain and the vibrant blue Noel used to colour his imagery.
Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)