Gabriella Reading Response 4

Posted: March 28, 2012 by gablneus in Uncategorized

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?

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