The Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens

Our first weekend in London, we did some walking. No time like the present to start exploring our new city, and the first place we decided to go was deep in Central London: Kensington Gardens via Hyde Park. You can’t get more British than that. We packed a small picnic and off we went to explore the famous green space. From Gloucester Road, it was a quick walk down the high street to the garden edge. But after studying a map, it’s actually quite easier to meander from Green Park or South Kensington.

Oh, the things you learn.

The first landmark sign pointed in opposite directions to the Peter Pan Statue and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. A Princess is more iconic than Peter Pan to the new ex-pat, so we followed the pathway there with grey skies and bristling wind as our companion.

The gorgeous fountain, frequently splashed around in by kids in the summer, is situated right next to The Serpentine Lake. It was the perfect place to huddle together and enjoy our lunch. We shared grapes with the the birds and listened to the running water of the massive water sculpture.

Princess Diana Memorial
Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in Kensingston Gardens

As we looked over the water and questioned whether the birds were geese or swans, a gentleman with a baby in a backpack approached us. We made some typical small talk and confirmed that I was, yet again, right, that the birds were in fact swans–not geese like Jeff had said.

The gentleman asked us if we had gone to The Serpentine Gallery yet. We walked past it on the way to our lunch site, but we did not think to go in. If he hadn’t told us that it was “shocking,” I don’t believe we would have given it a second thought. But I was intrigued. What would Brits call shocking?

Puppets used to depict the Crusades in the short film.

What was exhibiting was actually quite interesting and intriguing; so much so, I went back for another viewing.

Inside the small gallery, there were three screens and a glass case in the foyer. The glass case had a couple dozen marionettes in a Middle Eastern fashion that were used in short film number 1–a film of the Crusades as told by these puppets. While for a few moments I felt like we were watching a form of the film Team America: World Police, it turned quite serious and violent, or dare I say shocking.

As the credits rolled, a woman passed me by wiping away her tears, and conversations roared on about the controversial topic. But that’s exactly what these sorts of galleries house–non-classical art and works that challenge the viewer.

The project really was an incredible undertaking and I felt captivated by the display. If you have a moment, check out Wael Shawky’s exhibition Cabaret Crusades both The Horror Show Files and The Path to Cairo.
The screen in the middle of the gallery was a black and white film with child actors. This was Al Araba Al Madfuna II. They wore fake mustaches and the voices that came from them were of adults. I did not quite understand what was happening and what stories they were telling. I was more intrigued by the puppets and their retelling of ancient history, but wish I had stayed to see that film as well.
We headed back home after that, and I made a promise to myself that I would devote time to the smaller galleries as well as the large museums.
A view of Prince Albert Memorial outside The Serpentine Gallery.

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