Night at the Museum

Posted: March 27, 2012 by shaunpoon in Uncategorized

In this weeks readings which focus on the effects of museums and their connections that are created when people visit we start off with Charmaine McEacherns piece about the district six museum in Cape Town, South Africa. She begins with a quote that provides a background of the importance of museums for the people of South Africa “Memory is central in social theorising and critique in contemporary South Africa today” (McEacherns 499). With this she dives into the District six museum and how the museum is of utmost importance to helping the people engage with the past based on location and its contents. This museum and its exhibitions are designed with the intent to provide a memory that some may have, and create ones for those who do not have one of the apartheid and district six, a place where thousands were forced to relocate from. The museum uses a series of art work to create a form of remembrance for those who were displaced, linking the notion of a diasporic community and diasporic thought to the visitors of the museum. The interaction with the museum creates a form of nostalgia for some, information for others and a  sense of once belonging for some as well. This piece connects the museum and the memory to allow an ongoing history to be represented.

In the Catalani piece there is a somewhat different perspective on the notion of the museum as it takes a different reference point and focuses in on the western ideals of museums representing non western collections. The museum is seen as something that can strengthen ones identity through relations of various objects/artworks. However, history can also take the place of memory and shape the way that one thinks. The author continues by mentioning that non-western collections in Western places are recollections of the past. When an object is removed from its original context and relocated in a new environment they become part of a shared cultural heritage, a diaspora in a sense. What a museum does is construct an identity through its objects and allows for diasporic communities to help define themselves with a place of belonging.

Finally, in the Gurian piece, she keys in on the objects themselves and how they posses a relationship with those around it, or, to an extent, do not. She mentions that objects are not the soul of he museum and rather the physicality of a place and the memories and stories told therein that are important (Gurian 165). What makes a museum a place of nostalgia, belonging and identification is through the stories that museums tell and the way that they tell them. IN a sense, the object can, in many cases, fulfill a secondary role, like a prop in a play she says, important to the overall story, but nothing unless it is complimented with something additional. She ends off by telling the reader the importance of a museum and its contents and sums up what the three readings signify, “we need museums and their siblings because we need a collective history in order to remain civilized, they authenticate the social contract and are proof that we were here” (Gurian 182).

The readings really put into perspective the often overlooked concept of the museum and its contents, whether work of art or artifact. They accurately depicted the importance of a museum and how they can be seen by others as a place of belonging, nostalgia and information. 

This leads me to my question: Does an object need to be authentic to be placed in a museum? And if that object serves its purpose does it become authenticated?

  1. gablneus says:

    The readings this week (like every other week) led me to think about authenticity as well. What is so important about a museum, however, is that we can assume that all of its objects are in fact ‘authentic.’ Here, I have found myself in a weird position of backwards logical thinking: I do not know what authenticity is, but we can assume that the things in museums are considered authentic by the people that created the museum and the people that enjoy the museum. Therefore, authenticity is some characteristic that is common to all of the objects in a particular museum. I have given up trying to find some essential, objective definition of authentic. Instead, I see it as a social phenomenon–we can talk about it as a common way in which people interpret their world. We can see authenticity in a human feeling of grounded-ness in reality. I associate it with feelings of comfort, generated by the sense that an object is real. Authenticity as a human phenomenon, saves us from existential angst, from feeling like life is just a dream, and from feeling like nothing we do has meaning in the “real world.”…and these are scary thoughts and feelings. I did not answer your question, but this is how I have come to understand authenticity, a concept that seems to have become a black hole in our discussions of the diasporic lives of objects

  2. mitsar says:

    I think we’ve all come to understand that authentic can be a really tricky word. I can’t remember in which article but it talks about how a museum in Israel used all non-authentic (and therefore examples-of) objects because the originals were still in use or deemed too important.
    So perhaps no, the physical object may not always be authentic, but the story, use, meaning behind it will always be.
    if we’re going to try and draw hard and fast lines, then maybe we could say authenticity lies in the original purpose of the object, regardless of the age of the object.

    Some of you (if not all of you) are going to think I’m super lame but if any of you have ever watched the show Charmed (super 1990s i know) there’s an episode where Fairy Tales get all messed up and one character asks how that happens if they are just stories– she’s told that each version of the story is a manifestation of the original stories, mess with those and you mess with all of them.
    K I know it’s a terrible and super lame example but it kind of related back to what we’re talking about. The original meaning lies in every manifestation even if it’s current use and context is not the same as the original.

    Of course I could be totally wrong and have just made a huge fool of myself for admitting to watching that show. So for good measure I’m going to deny that any of this ever happened.

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