Things matter: reengaging African objects at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
(Royal Ontario Museum)
Paper short abstract:
This paper focuses on a recent project that reflects on the colonial legacies of ethnographic collections and their potential for engagement. Objects are put at the center, to rethink in a collaborative fashion how historical collections may still be relevant to contemporary dialogues.
Paper long abstract:
This paper addresses some of the historical and recent developments of a troubled exhibtionary and relational history involving African objects, images, and communities in Toronto Canada. In 1989, "Into the Heart of Africa" an exhibition, meant to critically explore the colonial premises of museum collecting in Africa, generated harsh controversy which created a fracture between the African Canadian community and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Since then, large segments of this community have continued to feel estranged from the ROM in ways that have become visibly at odds with the museum's institutional rebranding as a "space that connect people to their world and to one another". The presentation will discuss "Of Africa," a three year multiplatform initiative, initiated in 2014. In particular, I will focus on some recent work done to reconnect communities with the collection, interrogating the materials beyond scholarship. By moving the discussion from the conference room to the collection area we seek to interrogate the objects and their ability to function as community catalysts or connectors. Can collections built under very specific historical premises be effective communicators in today's complicated cultural landscape? What are the stories worth telling? What are the limits of the materials holdings of museums? And how can these be overcome to invent new spaces and opportunities of dialogue and exchange? While these are the driving questions of our project, the paper will report on the preliminary insights gained through the ongoing work with our community advisors.
Re-visioning material anthropological legacies for cosmo-optimal futures