Who's afraid of the Anthropology Museum? Migratory aesthetics and exhibition curation in the 21st century
(University of Queensland)
Paper short abstract:
There are challenges to re-imagining anthropology museums for the 21st century. Migratory aesthetics assists with rethinking the exhibition curation of such materials. Incongruous juxtapositions, multiple temporalities and disrupted narratives enable these things to find their humanity again.
Paper long abstract:
There are challenges to re-imagining anthropology or ethnographic museums for the 21st century. Thomas (2016) suggests that museums are 'creative technologies that enable us to remake things anew in the present'. In what ways could this be achieved? These ethnographic things are with us now in the present. They cannot be made to travel backwards in time to become purified and re ascribed to their state of origin to give them meaning. The world is replete with these collections held in state museums and in universities all over Europe, the Americas and Australasia. In Australia such colonial era collections are not enjoying a moment of recognition. The prevailing academic, if not national, sentiment does not attribute value, agency or power to these collections but relegates them mainly to a polluted 'not art' category that is of little interest. In much contemporary writing in the anthropology of art and in curatorial studies, and despite the turn to ethnography in art practice, the subject of the ethnographic museum is largely avoided in favour of examples from a 'contemporary art' category. This paper considers how Bal's concept of migratory aesthetics might assist with rethinking the exhibition curation of materials in ethnographic collections. Instead of assuming museum objects as static and awaiting classification, I argue that incongruous juxtapositions, multiple temporalities and disrupted narratives enable these things to find their humanity again. The paper draws on examples from the exhibition program of the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum during the last 7 years.
Anthropological border crossings and migratory aesthetics