Accepted Paper:

Indigenous dissonance: letting artifacts speak  


Jack Davy (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

Museum objects are stripped of context, representatives of distant peoples for modern audiences. But these objects often contain obscured information, that gives profound insights into the people who made them. This paper examines how curators can help objects speak for themselves.

Paper long abstract:

In the museum space, curators manipulate objects for their own narratives, adjusting and selecting artifacts for display to better enable modern audiences to relate to specific aspects or elements of the societies or themes that are important to the curator.

This is not why objects are created. They are made for specific purposes in specific place and times. Among them are many objects which do not fit into European functionalist seriations of objects; a polished axe is not an axe, a miniature boat is not a boat, and even those things which appear to be as they are, are often layered in purposes and meanings which are opaque and conflicting to modern curatorial practice.

This paper considers how curators can look at objects anew, wrapping them once more in the context from which they emerge to, once again, tell the indigenous narratives they were created to carry; rather than those the curator wishes to impose. It will, using case studies from diverse contexts, explore how curators can enable objects to speak for themselves, instead of imposing meaning on objects to fit curatorial narratives, in order to let them tell their own stories.

By combining this approach with developments in the presentation of oral histories and digital reconstructions in the museum space, the paper will present a vision of how curatorial best practice can develop as it engages with the struggle of marrying modern audiences and ancient voices.

Panel P033
Curating futures