Beginning with Hoskins's observation that "when words fail us, our possessions speak", this panel considers how museum objects have the capacity to break silences and evoke memories about cultural and ritual practices that became entrenched during periods of political repression and colonisation.
In Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People's Lives, Janet Hoskins (1998) observed that "when words fail us, our possessions speak". Taking this observation as a starting point, the papers in this panel will consider how heritage objects now in museums have the capacity to break silences surrounding cultural and ritual practices that became entrenched during periods of political repression and colonisation. In some regions, for example, those exposed to Soviet rule, Stalinist persecutions led to the confiscation or destruction of objects and the buildings used to house them. In other places, colonial regimes contributed to the disruption of knowledge and of the skills involved in making and using associated objects. In other cases, socio-political upheaval and the resulting dislocation led to people becoming exiled from their homes and material surroundings, sometimes for generations. In such contexts, words may have failed because it was too dangerous to speak. The wounds of these societies are part of the memories and narrations today being awakened during encounters mediated by museums between heritage objects and those who were formerly silenced. Contributors to this panel are invited to consider the stories that such heritage objects can evoke. What challenges to established narratives do they pose? How can they contribute to gaps in knowledge created by political and cultural repression? What is the remedial capacity of such objects? And what are the implications for the museums that house them and for anthropological understanding of the relations between people and things more broadly?