As Easter approaches, many of us will be drawn into diverse forms of celebration. For Christians, Easter marks the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the cross, for the more secular minded amongst us, the celebration of the spring equinox. The origins of Easter are relatively well known, stretching back to pagan rites and beyond that, to symbolic resurrection myths of ancient times. Rituals in which the sun dies on the constellation of the Southern Cross — and symbolic narratives ranging from Egyptian deity Horus and the Sumerian goddess Inanna — marking a new cycle of renewal and rebirth, are recurring belief systems of various civilisations and cultures spanning time and geography.

On a lighter note, many of the enjoyable traditions we associate with Easter have accrued over millennia and, for the same reason, have endured. Bunnies are a left-over from the pagan festival celebrating Eostre, a great Northern goddess who was represented in religious rituals by a rabbit or hare. The exchange of eggs is an ancient custom shared by many cultures across the world over the centuries, and even hot cross buns can trace origins back to sweet buns referred to in the Old Testament as offerings by the Israelites to their deities.

The symbolic debris of history surrounds us. Signs and symbols in our day-to-day environment and culture have longstanding and shifting significance providing a glimpse into the past and allowing us to connect with the ideas, attitudes and experiences of generations long gone. The symbolic narratives that have shaped our contemporary world are often of great interest to artists. Our next exhibition at Modern Art Oxford by Irish artist Sean Lynch connects powerfully into this potential. Sean’s work often involves developing representations of idiosyncratic moments from the past which have almost been forgotten, but which have left a trail of objects, events or narratives.

Sean’s project for Modern Art Oxford was inspired by the freehand stonemasonry of the Irish O’Shea brothers who were commissioned by Ruskin in the mid-19th cent-ury to work on the design of the new Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The O’Shea brothers had completed a series of not-able stone carvings in Dublin during the 1850s before accepting the commission, which involved creating elaborate carvings of plant and animal forms for the entrance of the museum.

Controversy quickly surrounded the O’Sheas’ carvings of primates on the museum’s façade, as many people interpreted the work as a representation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, a contentious and powerful subject within theological, intellectual and social debates of the time.

Following a quarrel between the O’Sheas and the University, James O’Shea attempted a series of impromptu carvings on the entrance to the museum intended to caricature the authorities of Oxford as parrots and owls. These carvings are still visible on the building today. Lynch activates this story through a variety of objects sited throughout the exhibition at Modern Art Oxford enabling us to reflect on the way in which historical events, belief systems and half-remembered rituals are often re-enacted in the present, rather like Easter itself.