International Museum Day 2017
What is the relationship between museums, objects and people?
This year’s International Museum Day’s theme – Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums provides an opportunity to ponder upon the significance and relevance of museums in the present times. It also provides us a chance to exercises our empathy muscles. While, acceptance of a contested history is the first step in envisioning a shared future under the banner of reconciliation, the ability to do so springs from the ability to first remove ‘our shoes’. For, it is only when we are able to detach from our perceptions and our values, are we ready to receive others.
However, it would be worthwhile to ask ourselves, how as museums do we practice empathy? Are we willing to accept a contradictory view? In a situation of conflict of interest between the museum and the community we serve whose voice is finally recorded? Are we just claiming to be visitor centric? How are museum objects used as mediators to bridge the gaps of understanding?
According to Bernadette Lynch, museum objects can unlock experience and thus become an immensely useful device as the focal point for projective imagination in storytelling and memory work: as inspiration or provocation; for discussion and debate. Thus objects can help unlock experience and become the catalysts for emotion, communication, intercultural understanding and sometimes resistance. While museums understand and harness the potential of objects to start difficult conversations it is worthwhile to see where it leads to. What is the end result of such interventions? For example the Somali refugee women who wanted some means to talk about their cultural heritage at the Manchester Museum or the pop up at the Conflictorium (museum of conflict) in Ahmedabad.
A worthwhile case study of addressing contested histories is the London Sugar and Slavery Gallery at the Museum of London, Docklands. Slavery is not a comfortable subject for any museum to deal with. However, the curators did not hesitate in displaying the barbarity and cruelty of a trade which saw millions of Africans shipped to the New World and fortunes being made by London merchants, amongst others, as a consequence. The museum approached the subject with a view to include the views and expectations of many experts and members of the communities to be inclusive .This inclusiveness lead to a more informed approach to the subject matter breaking from the confines of traditional museum culture and protocol. The exhibition has enabled Londoners to better appreciate the contribution made by the slave trade and slaves themselves to Britain’s modern prosperity.
Some museums do have an inclusive approach while curating exhibitions and probably outreach programmes. However, this inclusiveness is yet to be seen in other areas of museum management. Talking about the Indian scenario, museums in India have a long way to go. Days like International Museum day though provide a good impetus for authorities to start the conversation.
Museums across Bangalore will be celebrating this day collective for the first time. The Karnataka Tourism Dept. is facilitating the museums by creating awareness and reaching the masses through various publicity campaigns. ReReeti is responsible for curating a four-day event at the State Archeological Museum as part of the celebrations.
ReReeti works with museums, galleries and heritage sites across India to plan strategies, design systems and implement programmes to increase audience engagement and institutional/company visibility. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.
Tejshvi Jain is the founding director of ReReeti and an ATSA fellow. She is passionate about making heritage and culture more accessible. She had been an arts writer, teacher and curator prior to setting up this non-profit organization.