Museums, Ethnographic Collections, and Amazonian People: developing relationships.
Sonia Duin (University of Florida)
Paper short abstract:
(Former) colonial institutes and museums for ethnography remain bulwarks of knowledge production. Digitization of collections in conjunction with new media allows hidden objects to become accessible. Also critically assessed is the role of source communities in decolonizing museum collections.
Paper long abstract:
During the past centuries, thousands of objects of indigenous Amazonian people were sent to Europe and the United States, while only a small selection has been publicly on display in cabinets of curiosities, museums of ethnography or natural history. These museums and related institutions (universities, libraries, etc.) became "bulwarks of knowledge production" which conventional models reigns supreme, particularly pertaining Amazonian Tropical Forest Cultures. This neo-evolutionary paradigm, in conjunction with current studies on materiality and the subjectification of things, unintended or not, has estranged objects from people. Nonetheless, things are a materialization of multiscalar interrelationships between objects, people, non-people, and the environment. Currently, indigenous people request to become collaborators in contextualizing museum collections, as well as (co)guest-curators of exhibitions, because if future indigenous generations have to rely on museum collections for gaining insight into their inherited culture, a flawed perspective will be received. Persisting in an unequal dialogue with source communities and lacking shared research objectives, museums and related institutions (such as universities, libraries, etc.) will remain neo-colonial bulwarks of knowledge production. Moreover, museum collections hold historical objects that are rare or even absent in contemporary indigenous societies, but still present in the collective social memory. In order for 21st century ethnographic museums to become post-colonial, museum collections ought to become a meeting ground foregrounding the shared and contested material and intangible heritage.
A museum ethnography: decolonisation, reconciliation and multiculturalism