Next stop: Museum Station

Posted: March 28, 2012 by janinemarie91 in Uncategorized

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?

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