‘Bums are universal’ - Europeana’s collections illustrate Museum Bums book

Section of book cover with the words 'Museum Bums', and showing the bottoms of two figures - Venus and Mars - from an engraving by Angelo Bertini (after Canova)

Mark Small and Jack Shoulder’s 'Museum Bums' uses statues and artworks to explore public and social histories.

Beth Daley (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)
Mark Small
Jack Shoulder

‘Museum Bums’ started out on social media, grew into a thriving online community and at the end of 2023, became a print book. We talk to its authors.

Hi, Jack and Mark. Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Jack: I live in Bristol, UK. I’ve worked in museums, galleries and cultural spaces since 2010. I work for a young people’s mental health charity, and in my spare time, I coordinate LGBTQ+ tours at the V&A. I love finding ways to get people excited about history, and looking at the past with fresh eyes. I like to explore what we can understand better, what evidence can be challenged, and what our assumptions are.

Mark: I also live in Bristol, and worked in a national heritage charity on youth empowerment projects. Then I moved to Bristol Museum and Bristol Archives. I’m interested in public history - making it accessible, available and interesting, trying to tell stories in interesting ways. I now work at Bristol Register Office and I like to include some cultural heritage when I can - for example next year we’ll celebrate the 200th anniversary of the building we’re based in. And together, Jack and I have written a book about Museum Bums!

Mark and Jack, smiling, holding the book between them.

We have to ask - why bums?

Jack: Bums are universal. They get people talking, they’re a bit cheeky - in art and sculpture, bums are often overlooked - we tend to focus on the face and the front. So when we look at bums, we’re looking at things from a different perspective. We find out more about how an object or artwork was supposed to be displayed, what the artist wanted us to see, whether the artist was good at proportions and posture. Bums are a way in to exploring art and art history in a way that is fun and a bit silly, but can really get people thinking.

In about 2013, we started putting pictures on our own social media of bums from statues we saw in museums. We were getting some attention, so in 2016 we decided to team up and established Museum Bums on Twitter and Instagram.

In the book, there’s also a series of essays exploring bums through various lenses like a feminist lens, or a queer lens. Even questions like ‘Why are so many people at the beach in these paintings?’

Mark: Bums are ubiquitous. You can go into any gallery or cultural space and there will be a bum somewhere. The Polar Museum in Cambridge has a bronze statue in its grounds by Captain Scott’s widow and modelled on the young brother of Lawrence of Arabia. At the British Library, you can find bums in atlases, in constellation maps, as a popular decorative feature. They cross time too - neolithic fertility statutes, 20th century Henry Moore statues, Japanese art that includes the story of the Kappa, a mythological creature you can fend off by farting in its face.

Hercules victor (Farnesischer Herkules), Balitzki, Gundula (Herstellung) (Fotograf), Deutsche Fotothek In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted The (Rear) End, Smoulder Enterprises Limited/Chronicle Books CC BY-SA

How do you use

Jack: I think around 10% of the images in the Museum Bums book are sourced from During lockdown, our online community grew - people would send us a grainy picture of something they’d seen and want to know more about it. We’d use our research skills to work out what it was. Amazing resources like really helped. Europeana is a great source of rich information. So if there is sparse information on Wikimedia, for example, we know we can go to for a breadth of collections and information that helps us piece together what people are sending us. We then share it back to them with our new information.

Mark: We like to share things in a jokey way but sneak in some art history research. We know people are scrolling Instagram on the bus, and we want them to go ‘Ha!’ but also ‘Ah!’

The Fisherman and the Syren, Frederic LEIGHTON, Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives In Copyright The Fisherman and the Syren, in 'Museum Bums', Smoulder Enterprises Limited In Copyright

What has been your best find on

Jack: This year we wanted to do a social media post for Mother’s Day in the UK, and using, we found a shot from the film The Mother. It’s really hard to find something that is so specific - maternal images tend to focus on the front of the body or a mother and child. Being able to find something that specific really worked for our brand.

Mark: In 2020, we trawled Europeana for Olympic-themed bums. One of our favourites we used on our socials was at the Swedish Olympic Stadium. The statue has two figures running through the main entrance. I loved how the juxtaposition of art, culture, sport and international events all came together.

What are you thinking about at the moment?

Jack: Photo manipulation has been on my mind as there have been conspiracy theories about the Princess of Wales editing a family photo. I’m thinking about how we are receiving images and how they can be manipulated. And the fact that people are developing critical thinking about what we’re seeing on the internet. We’re thinking ‘Is this fake or real?’

Mark: I have been thinking about the Oscars! We went to the Barbican to see an exhibition of costumes from the film Poor Things. The storytelling that people did with the outfits is incredible.We saw the film at an indie cinema, then going to the exhibition really extended the experience.

Where do you find inspiration?

Mark: During lockdown, museums and archives used their social media accounts as their main way to engage with people. Orkney Library’s social media was very good at finding a random object and saying this is why it’s interesting. The National Library of Scotland also did really fun social media that wasn’t necessarily about their collections, but you learned something.

Jack: Suzy Dent and her word of the day always cheer me up. And I like the website that tells us how many people are in space.

Mark: I like the NASA picture of the day. It reminds me that we’re tiny and insignificant.

What plans do you have for Museum Bums in the future?

Jack: We’re doing a lot of work on events with UK museums, such as tours and talks with organisations like V&A Dundee, Dundee University as part of Dundee Pride celebrations as well as working with Leeds City Museum and on events in Liverpool. We’ve also got plans for book two, and possibly book three. We’ve still got plenty to say about bums.

Mark: With events like this, we get a chance to highlight what’s not there - what people have decided isn’t important in art. In Liverpool with the Walker Art Gallery, we’re doing a drawing event where the life models are people of colour or people who don’t have normative bodies. We want to make the point that there are galleries and collections full of white bodies, but that’s not representative of everyone. A lot of art is based on Greek and Roman art and a pursuit of perfect proportions. But bodies are messy and they aren’t perfect.