Hello DTS403 graduates, some of us would like to eat after class. We would like your suggestions as to which restaurant and who can make it. Professor Ken MacDonald you better be there! We will buy you cheese 🙂
Archive for March, 2012
Above are pictures from my trip to the Harem in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The first image on the left is a re-creation of a Harem scene, with statues of women in the Harem meeting the queen mother. The following two images are the lounging areas of the Sultans (Mehmed II onwards). Keeping in mind that the sofas, carpets and the building itself date back to the 15th century, it was truly an incredible experience looking at these historical artefacts. Despite the withering away of the sofa and the fading carpet print, I remember being amazed at the durability of these objects and their ability to transcend time and context to be in the present moment (I visited this palace right before this class started by the way).
I would like to incorporate the first two images from the Harem posted above into my reading response about objects in museums this week. Firstly, the statues of the women in the first image speak to a type of recreation or reenactment of the past through objects. The object of the statues are not historically ‘authentic’ in that they are recreated in the present moment to illustrate a moment in the past. Unlike the carpet or the sofas in the next picture which are from the 15th C of the Ottoman Empire, the statues are recent creations. It is interesting to consider how ‘objects’ are used to re-enact historical moments, although they may not be from the period itself; I think that the statues are useful in speaking to the continued role of objects in navigating historical accounts in museums. Although the statues and the carpets represent two different types of objects and their fluidity and shifting role(s) as museum objects; I think the persistence of objects in historical representations in museums counters Gurian Heuman’s argument about the importance of the ‘soul’ of the museum versus the object. He states; ” I believe the debate has missed the essential meaning (the soul, if you will) of the insitution that is the museum…[t]he following discussion will attempt to capture the soul by throwing light on the shifting role of museum objects over time. It will show how elusive objects are, even as they remain the central element embedded within all defintions of museums” (Heuman 4). From the statues of the women from the Harem, one can see how the object continues to be a convential method through which museums tell histories about the past, even if those objects are not from the time period, but merely re-presentations and re-creations constructed at a later date.
I was largely unimpressed with Catalani’s article on ‘Western Museums and the Creation of Non-Western Identity’. I think a large part of my criticism has to do with the important issue Mahmer raised in class about the distinction between ‘western’ and ‘non western’. Through a further reading, I think this is even more problematic with the article speaking about ‘African’ artefacts in British museums and her classification of ‘African’ art in the category of ‘non-western’. I think the author does a good job in illustrating the problems of ‘othering’ African art in British museums, and the issue of simply speaking to its aesthetic qualities and homogenizing Africa into one category. However, I feel that the classification of ‘ non western’ repeats many of those things listed as critcisms above. My main issue with the seperation of ‘western’ and ‘nonwestern’ is namely that those identities are not mutually exclusive. Like Paul Gilroy argues in his essays on the ‘Black Atlantic’, the British transatlantic slave trade blurred the categories of British and African from the 17th century because of the brutal exchange of people and objects from Africa, and their undeniable presence in Britian in the present day. Hence, many forms of African art in British museums can be seen as both non-western and western at the same time.
I think the distinction between non-western and western in even more problematic in context of the pictures from Istanbul that I have posted above. As I mentioned in class, Istanbul is literally in between the continental plates of Europe and Asia. Although the palace in Istanbul would have been classified in Orientalist discourse of the 18th-19th centuries as ‘Eastern’–along with current members of the European Union like France who refuse to include Turkey in the EU, the geographical, cultural, social and historical realites of the people of Istanbul suggest a more fluid identity between Europe and Asia. In the above photographs, you have an example of what would be a ‘non-western’ museum’, catering to ‘western’ constructs of identity about the East, i.e the Harem as a place signifying the Sultan’s ‘laziness and lounging’ and sexual exploits. In this sense, I think objects in museums are not only fluid in their evocations of the present and the past, but also in their fluid breaking apart of the distinction between western and non western identities.
1) Why do you think that the Harem museum would recreate physical representations of the women that lived in the Harem? What is the relationship between orientalist fantasies of these women and their corresponding ‘objectifications’.
2) Above, I have listed some problems with the distincton between the terms ‘western’ and ‘non western’. In what ways can those distinctions also be useful?
In McEachern article, the author poses the conundrum of the construction of a new identity created and sanctioned by the state, in this case, the “new” South African identity. As a characteristic of representations of all classes, whether through objects such as artefacts and relics, especially those that are presented in museums, the process of constructing a novel, contemporary identity is at the cost of the constant reliving of the past. In the case of District Six Museums in Cape Town, it serves as a catalyst to the assertion of a South African post-apartheid identity that has to be internalized by the people, through a space turned into a place that serves as a memory-provoking object. However, this process requires memory exercises, which includes the tracing and to a certain extent, reliving, the traumatic historical events that happened during apartheid South Africa.
While the showcases of museums, not just in South Africa, at the very basic, aim to tell a story under a governing agent through carefully planned and chosen objects as actors (see Latour reading for more info on agency of objects), it becomes controversial, and the author recognizes the problematization of representations, when a novel identity formation takes place through inevitable juxtaposition of what has been and what is now. This is more evident in traumatic diasporas such as Jewish diasporas, when concentration camps which is the very place where the Hitler genocidal regime took place, become a museum.
Going back to the idea of objects being governed by bodies, Gurian in What is the Object of this Exercise? also echoes the ability of objects to be controlled and the manner of storytelling that goes with it by various stakeholders’ interests (p.155) He also makes a bold assertion in demoting the glorified role that objects play in museums. I side with this argument in that I recognize the vulnerability of objects that occur during misinterpretations. I cannot help but compare and contrast Gurian’s argument that objects are not self-sufficient with Latour’s claim of objects having agency as well. But in the context of museums, the important consideration to make is to look at the configurations in which they exist. The theme of authenticity yet comes into play again with the showcasing of the objects in a space that is supposed to represent identity- and that identity has to be original. Furthermore, the institutionalization of museums begets a valid body to give due accreditation to the authentic parallel to the governing food bodies that give certification to certain foods to acknowledge that it is of certain quality.
In the Catalani article, the themes that were presented in the previous articles recur and their associations, contributions and distinction made obvious. The author raises the importance of history, memory, identity and the role that objects facilitate in those concepts by looking at the non-Western art showcased in Western museums. Similar to most traumatic diasporas, artefacts collected in colonized countries are brought to the colonizing mother-country as tangible memories of stories of heroism, conquest and glory. As these artefacts are showcased in museums, it is transformed into art that tell a collective history that takes on academic prominence. In essence, non-Western objects facilitate the Western identity construct.
The distinction that the author makes between history and memory is an important one- while the former is more assertive and academically valid, the latter is more personal and internalized. This is however a tricky distinction, one that does not really have a solid border of exclusion. History is written by the winners as they say. This writing of history is then based on what? Simply not just through objects and the corresponding chronological story that follows. History is written through selective memory- one that tells a story still, but under a certain set of pretexts.
In the case of the International Museum of Slavery in Liverpool, the museum is used to evoke a collective sentiment amongst black descendants in Britain, furthermore it can be used to foster a black identity. But is this truly a non-western identity that is formed? Or is it merely a contemporary western black non-slave identity?
Mceachern’s article about the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa is interesting in our study of the Diasporic lives of Objects because it introduces place and space as objects. District Six, she explains, is a space that has been transformed into “place” as people attach to it their own memories and meanings. In the same way that we have seen musical instruments or traditional foods as being used by people to perform a certain kind of identity, McEachern argues that living in District Six, and later remembering District Six in a certain way, allows people to assume and reinforce an identity.
One interesting point of interest in this article is the concept of choosing one’s own identity. McEachern claims that through Apartheid, people were “forced into a racialized kind of suburbia, a mode of living and an identity which was not of their own choosing (514).” This lead me to question: Which people have the right to determine their own identities? Although I live in a relatively open society, I do not see myself as having chosen my identity (female, italian, Jewish, American, University student). These categories were imposed upon me by my society and by my family.
However, perhaps McEachern is talking about a different kind of identity. She is talking about the relationship between identity and space. Therefore, when space is manipulated, the identities connected to this space are manipulated as well. This idea can be applied to studies of colonialism and the way in which it manipulated space, breaking old identities and creating new ones.
Gurian also argues that memory or the “evidence of history” are central in the construction of identity, but what is interesting about his article is that he explains that even museums that do not focus on a particular place (like the District Six Museum) still create “place” out of “space.” He says, the essence of a museum is in “being a place that stores memories and presents and organizes meaning in some sensory form (165).” When I think of a museum, I consider it as a place for reflection. When one sees an object in a museum, there are several questions that we ask ourselves about it: When is it from? Where is it from? Why is it important?
Thinking about museums is an excellent way to introduce the concepts of authenticity and questions about what constitutes an object, and what is the role of the story in mediating our relationship with objects? I think that this article about museums would have been a great introduction to the class. We often find ourselves getting lost in the endless search for the meaning of “authenticity.” However, the existence of museums teaches us that there is such thing as authenticity-what I mean is that we can talk about authenticity as it is agreed upon and seen in museums’ displays of objects.
Through the discussion of the importance of the narrative surrounding an object, I am interested in the question of which objects can speak for themselves? I think that a beautiful painting can speak for itself to a certain extent. Picasso’s Guernica, while it is connected to a particular story (the bombing of a town in Spain during the rule of Franco). it seems to express feelings of grief, pain, loss, chaos, and desperation even without knowing the story behind it. Can we say then that certain works of art are capable of speaking for themselves?
Anna Catalani raises the question of what is considered art and what is considered artefact? While the first two authors focused on museum and the way in which the objectify space, Catalani focuses on the way in which museums objectify and manipulate conceptions of time. Part of Western identity is seeing themselves as modern, which requires a certain conception of themselves in relation to others on a scale of time. Museums aid in this emphasizing the artistic component of Western objects and the anthropological component of non-Western objects.
I have observed through visits to both natural history museums and art museums, that Western art is broken down temporally into many different periods relating only to art (Classical, Neo-Classical, Modern etc). However, non-Western art is presented (in the ROM) according to broad historical periods that obscure the long and diverse history of non-Western societies. This reflects the uneven representations of Western vs. Non-Western histories in Western museums. I wonder, however, how museums in the non-West represent object from the West. Or do they show them at all?
Although the time is a continual progressive concept given to the living things so the division between past, present and future is also constantly moving on, the museum makes one realize the times past are seen at present for the future directions with questions: What are we made up of? How did we come to this right now? What is the direction from the current stage?
In the readings of this week, it is
Mceachern’s reading, the study shows the example of a museum in its role of constructing the memories and place and identity, dealt in the post-apartheid South African society; and by the specific role of museum as ‘autoethnography’–“representations ‘in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’ “, the individuals’ own experience of struggles and livelihood are alive in through remembering it. In the question of “what is ‘new’ in the ‘new South Africa’ ” and “can the past establish not just the fact of ‘newness’, but also to think of what it is, or can be, by reference to what it is not” leads the author to investigate the transitions between the old and the new politics by which the relationship between place and people and their identity is almost like a diasporic experience. In other words, even though the place remains there physically, but the demographic population and their fundamentalities are not the same as old which make the place as ‘new land’ to be. The main content to remember is the map on which that has the current and ex-residents’ name and/or with their current or formal address, which emphasizes physical presence of people in the past because that offers opportunity to “re-possess” the land as in where those people’s history exists. Basically, the place is reinterpreted as a site of memories of people. The overlapping of the past and the present of the whole demography itself shows something, but the overlapping of the individuals’ address makes to connect oneself to the other, whether from present or past, making the history as a whole. This grasping of the change from a space to place by people’s personal memory and the physical existence to the temporal existence that shaped people’s idenity overtime is quiet fascinating. And there is another interesting notion of who is the ‘destroyer’ of the site that transformed the past District Six to the present one. The reading points out that it is the modernity itself is the destroyer and the museum is the institution of the modernity; and yet the museums are “serving as a possible resurrections”. The metaphor and the symbolic representation of the map and the museum that contains the map is not just an institutional building but a site for a resurrected people, stories, and identities.
That notion of ‘resurrected people, stories, and identities’ is somewhat ‘spiritual’ as in how the next article takes up the investigation of “many meanings of objects in the museum”. Gurian, the author of this article mentions how the histories and identities of people are the ‘spirit’ of the civilization that can be seen through the historic sites, museums and other institutions of memory (163). However, not like other institutions or historic sites, the museum is somewhat specially credited as the institution for its role is distinctive, and it is not special due to the kinds of object that contains. Although it seems as the objects are the things that turns a kind of building into a museum, Gurain argues that it does not serve as a “definitional bedrock” to museum. In other words, there is a meaningful significance of the museum itself for it is the institution that interprets the stories of the object in particular way, and those stories are ‘seen’ by the ‘total work’ of spacial displays along with the written information and representation of the objects per se. It is more like a ‘santuary’ for those “sprits” of the objects, so the santuary itself is considered to hold the value of “sprits”. The object on the other hand, is explored through several questions on the definition of object and its “authenticity”: “Is the experience the object?”; “Is the image the object?”; “Is the story the object?”; or is it “the cultural context [that] makes the object?”… These questions are pointing to the role of museum that explains the standard of the selections of the objects and what is embodied in the museum, indeed. Separating the experience, image, story and cultural contexts or even the thing without the thing (the story without ‘actual objects’), the museum projects complex aspects of identity of object in collected form, and the modes of projection, including its preservance, done within the museum is what makes another dimension of the history put onto the object after it is collected. For these reasons, museum has its own onwnership of the objects displayed in the museum; and, therefore, it has its own agency of shaping and projecting the identity of the past, acting on the viewers’ perception.
In this shaping and projecting of the identity, this objects displayed in the museum, surely had their birth for other purpose than being displayed in the museum in the beginning. Those were owned by other people and the objects for lives, and now are materialized and shared as a representation of the memory rather than the tools itself. Then my question rises whether our memories lie in the object itself or the interpretation of the object from a personal or constructed view. Unless the viewers or people of the current knows the exact history of the object from the beginning to the end, it is likely to have compeletly different identity. As well, if the memories of struggles and conflicts of apartheid South African society is keep projecting, is this possible to have a side effect that may created deeper distinction between the once-dominant group and “coloured” group?
My dear colleagues, friends and “soon-to-be-if-not-already” genius diaspora under-graduates, you have all brought up some awesome points that me and Innocent will definitely discuss in class tomorrow. It will be a class to remember especially since we will be visiting the Ukrainian Museum next week! See you all at 4 PM.
Throughout this semester we’ve discussed the value of objects. Who gives value to an object? How is this value quantified against other objects? What does this mean for the future of the object and the context in which its in? All these questions are discussed in Gurian’s article What is the Object of this Exercise? Gurian explores the role of objects in museums and how they come to be considered worthy of being displayed, preserved and used for educational purposes.
When we think about museum objects, we imagine them to be untouchable ancient relics, masterpieces from the art world or proof of long lost civilizations. These pieces are one of a kind and tell us the story of people from a distant time and place. We may not always consider that artifacts found in museums belong to or have meaning to a group of living people. Gurian discusses the idea that museum curators are now changing the way they approach, preserve and present artifacts according to cultural or spiritual practices. What is more is that we now consider other types of historical and educational institutions to fall under the umbrella of museums (including record archives, botanical gardens, aquariums and zoos, and private collections). But as Catalani points out in her article Telling “Another” Story, the implication of an object in a museum presumes a collective memory and tells a biased story, primarily from a Western point of view. The information that is presented to us is often given by historians or other academics and always in comparison to another object from another time and place.
It leads me to wonder how a museum might look from another “perspective”—although I’m reluctant to define that other perspective (Eastern? Tribal? Authentic? Personal? Etc.) It is clear from these articles that museums relate stories, but we must be careful to remember whose perspective the story is being told from.
In the article Mapping the Memories, McEachern discusses the District Six Museum in Cape Town dedicated to the inner city area in the South African city that had a history of tolerance and diversity. District 6 was home to the working and artisanal classes until its dramatic revitalization in the 1960’s making way for a primarily white neighborhood. McEachern discusses the large map found on the floor of the museum which provides the opportunity for former inhabitants to “re-possess the history of the area” and encourages people to contribute to the narration of the history of District Six. McEachern beautifully shows us how the preservation of history has gone beyond the bounds of academia by including the personal accounts of those who lived it, not observed it. I would have liked to read more about the other objects found in the museum and how those were related to the people.
So my questions to you are this:
1. If you had your own museum to tell the story about your life, what would YOU put into it and what would you exclude? Personally I would include my 2 bookshelves worth of books but probably exclude grades and transcripts to give the illusion that I’m really smart and studious. I would also include the long lineage of used and abused converse shoes piled up in the back of my closet.
a. And as a follow up: Assuming you were dead, or someone else was creating the museum on your behalf, what do you think they would put in it to describe your life?
2. What other types of institutions fall under the umbrella category or museums? And are there any that were listed in Gurian’s article that you would exclude?
3. The one thing all the articles touch on lightly is the journey of the objects before they enter the museum. Stolen artefacts, incomplete collections, unclaimed property; is the story behind the object’s journey just as important as its original context? This reminds me of the article we read on stolen art work during WWII.