P067
Ambivalence about art: dilemmas for ethnographic museums.

Convenors:
Howard Morphy (Australian National University)
Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum)
Format:
Panels
Location:
British Museum - Stevenson Lecture Theatre
Start time:
3 June, 2018 at 15:30
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

Curating objects as art or ethnography is a theme that cuts across disciplines and institutions. Anthropologists have played a major role in negotiating this complex terrain. We invite papers that look at how the dilemmas have been conceptualised and how the associated issues have changed overtime.

Long abstract:

Art brings out the contradictions of anthropology as a discipline mediating between different cultures in an increasingly interconnected world. Ethnographic collections have housed works of great aesthetic power and technical accomplishment that were long denied entry into western museums of fine art. The celebration of indigenous and non-western arts has been dismissed by some as a sign of colonial romanticism while others for different reasons have seen its absence from the art gallery as a consequence of colonial attitudes. These debates have been particularly salient in settler colonial societies but ramify across the museum world. Curators struggled with a different but ultimately related dilemma: should aesthetically powerful works from non-western societies be exhibited and curated as artworks or placed in the context of their significance to the cultures of production? To do both in the same space was difficult because of the different criteria and styles of exhibition required by art galleries and ethnographic museums, and differences in their respective cultures and resources. Most anthropologists working in museums or with museum collections have been sensitive to these issue and currently museum anthropologists are playing a major role in negotiating this complex terrain. For this session we invite papers that look at the ways in which different people have approached these issues and how the dilemmas have been conceptualised and have changed overtime.