Archive for the ‘Mar 28’ Category

What story would your museum tell?

Posted: March 27, 2012 by mitsar in Mar 28

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.


Objects, Memories and Museums

Posted: March 26, 2012 by aresjoseph in Mar 28

Charmaine McEacher’s article, tells us that diasporic objects can be created in Museums to represent a cultural group’s history. McEacher discourse focus on one particular object in District Six Museum, a map from pre-apartheid South Africa.  This historical map allows individuals to trace their ancestral footsteps within the nation-state. McEacher states “The Museum is a powerful engagement with South Africa’s past, partly because its remembering is located in the very heart of apartheid philosophy and social engineering, the concentration of the apartheid city” (McEacher 500). In 1950, many black and colored people were forcefully removed from their homes in District Six, an inner city in Cape Town. As a result, they became internally displaced from their homes.   When the apartheid ended, the new South African identity was created and so was the Museum, which functioned as a site of resistance. Objects were placed there with the memories of people that had been displaced by the apartheid. Even today, McEacher states that people of South African descent travel from Canada, Australia, and the United States to District Six to see, study, or reflect on the objects at the Museum.

Elaine Gurian offers an alternative perspective on objects in Museums. She states, “In 1970, the American Association of Museums established Accreditation Commission” (167). The goal of this committee was to label objects as authentic or real based on their historical origin. Gurian contrasts this notions of authentic objects by describing a diasporic Museum in Israel that creates objects to  represent an historical event. She declares that  “museums and historical sites are tangible evidence of the spirit of society” (163). Her main argumentation is that objects in Museums mirrors the spirit of people in society, even when objects are not physically produced in the past. Both authors’ articles are well organized. They offer different perspectives on their topics by referencing different anthropologists, or philosophers like Michel Foucault. Here are my two questions:

1. Can an object in a Museum speak on its own without being labelled?

2.What object empowers people the most; the materiality of the map,stories labelled on the map, or image of the map?


Place and Authenticity

Posted: March 26, 2012 by tupakkat in Mar 28

In “Mapping the Memories: Politics, Place and Identity in the District Six Museum, Cape Town” Charmaine Mc Eachern reminds the reader that diasporicness need not result from leaving one’s country. Rather, one can be diasporic just a few miles outside their former place of residence. Another example for this kind of diasporicness being the village and former artist colony of Ein Hod whose Palestinian inhabitants were displaced in 1948 and now continue to live in the diaspora, just a few kilometers away.


The author describes how former District Six inhabitants reclaim the space from which they had been dispelled and turn it into ‘place’: People who had suffered under apartheid’s spatial policies repossess history through auto-ethnography by writing themselves on a map and by engaging in conversations with museum officers, who are themselves District Sixers. Walking the museum becomes an act of political resistance and an interrogation of apartheid rather than a mere consumption of memory work prepared and fed by others.

This particular way of ‘experiencing the museum’ places the former inhabitants of District Six at the center. It does not exclude other possible audiences but it does not make them the primary target audience, does not cater exclusively for the outside gaze.


On first sight the District Six Museum may appear to be a successful instance of what Anna Catalani in “Telling ‘Another’ Story: Western Museums and the Creation of Non-Western Identities” describes as source communities reclaiming the ownership of their material culture, or in this context better, their history. On closer examination, however, there appears to be a great difference between European museums exhibiting African artifacts and the District Six Museum. While the former -despite a handful of “Europeans of African descent reclaiming …” (Catalani, 2010:8)- still cater to a mainly white European audience, to the descendants of the former colonialists and their desires of exotic entertainment, the latter is a product of political struggle by the same people who are now at the center of presenting as well as visiting the museum. It therefore overcomes what Catalani calls “too artificial … industry of memory” (ibid. :4).

Being in the very location whose history the District Six Museum attempts to resurrect, allows for an undramatic authenticity that cannot be matched by any London museum exhibiting African treasures. The two articles describe two fundamentally different kinds of museums and related experiences: On one hand, the museums described by Catalani make “histories and memories consumable” (ibid.:3)  for an outside audience, lately spiced up with real Yoruba presence who serve as an exotic bonus to the European target audience and who allow for a more authentic feeling. The District Six Museum, on the other hand, is a site of memory, which allows those directly involved to come to terms with the past while simultaneously allowing tourists to learn about the history. Here, however, the people whose history is exhibited are actively involved agents who use the museum as a “strategy of identity construction” and creation of “morality tales” (Mc Eachern, 1998:511).


Mc Eachern’s notion that “identity and history are space” and Heumann Gurian’s proposal that the essence of a museum is not found in its objects but “in a place that stores memories” (Heumann Gurian, 1999:165) give the ‘space’ or ‘place’ a particular meaning. I am wondering whether it is the location itself that makes the greatest difference for the ‘authenticity’ of a museum experience, as one could conclude from the two above mentioned examples (African arts in Western museum vs. site of memory in South Africa) or whether it may be the context. If, for example, the District Six Museum was operated and administrated by a white elite and catered for a mainly white tourist audience while on the other hand an African and a European country would exchange arts and artifacts within the frame of an arts-exchange program, I believe, notions of ‘authenticity’ would change due to the agency of the people involved. What do you think?

The Role of museum’s in the formation of identity

Posted: March 26, 2012 by nelsonbakshidts403 in Mar 28

In Elaine Gurian’s article, she talks about how museums are tangible evidence to the history of civilizations. That the museums and institutions that house these artefacts allow how the connection to identity, sprit and pride within the individual. The museums and institutions allow for groups and communities to tell their story to others through their own words to those outside of the community. The objects though, are not the most important part about the museum/institution itself, but rather the stories that are found within the museum/institution are the more important aspect of it.

In the Anna Catalan article is about how western museums create an open forum in which individuals are able to recollect and discuss about the formation of identity. Museums are a vital outlet for the process of remembering the past and the forward movement into the future. History and memory are two separate aspects within the museum; history is based on written evidence which can be showcased while memory is based on oral accounts that create a more personal relationship.

In Paul Basu’s article, his main focus is about the issue of transnational museological relationality and responsibility in the context of Sierra Leonean cultural heritage. He draws upon the vocabulary that is associated with the migration of transnational and cultural flow of Sierra Leon. Museums though, are highly localized but due to the increase in digital flow and with the internet, it is creating a highly globalized version of museums.

Each of these authors take a highly different approach to their topics, giving each one an interesting perspective to the topic. With Elaine’s article, it was about how museums and institutions allow for the ability of letting stories being told through objects. While in Anna’s article it’s about the formation of identity and Paul’s article about the globalization of the museum. All the authors had good examples in which people can now go to a museum and have a different perspective on what they see when they see objects in museums or institutions. However in Paul’s article it was slightly confusing to keep with the readings while in Anna’s and Elaine’s it was much more easier to read along.

1. How has these readings change the way you now view items in person vs when you see them online

2. Can the digitalization of objects devalue the worth of a object