Museum – rendezvous of past, present, and future

Posted: March 28, 2012 by jnnice in Uncategorized

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?



  1. The continued projection of apartheid identity as you mentioned is indeed problematic. I agree, the reliving of past traumas in constructing a novel identity has the possibility of entrenching distinction. This, I believe, is slowly fading away.. however it is interesting that there are conflicts amongst new generations whose feud’s are based on a historic event that they themselves were not even a part of.

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