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Accepted Paper:

Collecting Another India: Challenging representation, patronage and otherness in the postcolonial museum  
Mark Elliott (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reflects on a recent project to commission new artworks for an exhibition on Indigenous and Adivasi peoples in Cambridge, and on the processes of knowledge production, objectification and othering which the process set out to critique.

Paper long abstract:

The recent exhibition, Another India: Explorations and Expressions of Indigenous South Asia, began as a project to make sense of historic collections of ethnographic artefacts from India in Cambridge, focusing on those from Indigenous and Adivasi peoples. It became an opportunity to reflect upon and reshape those collections through creative collaborations with contemporary Indigenous and Adivasi artists.

The exhibition set out to explore marginalised and suppressed narratives and engage with contentious histories that continue to impact on populations in India and the UK. New commissions were envisaged as tools to support the democratisation or decolonisation of narratives for source communities, curators and visitors alike. Our title highlighted terms we sought to challenge by exploring how 'otherness' is created in the colonial archive and in contemporary artworlds. The process of commissioning new works of sculpture that responded directly to existing museum collections, their histories and legacies, required the curatorial team in England and India to critically reflect on strategies of knowledge production, representation and museumification in colonial and postcolonial contexts. It also required a continuing reflection and reassessment of our own positions within such histories, and our roles as curators, art-makers and patrons.

This paper reflects on the process of commissioning new artworks from indigenous artists and makers, and the intellectual and ethical approaches that such collaborations generated. It highlights museums and exhibitions and important sites of action and intervention to challenge the very processes in which they have been historically complicit, and asks what the next steps might be.

Panel P014
Representing 'Modern' Global, Local and Imperial Histories in Object-Centred Museums
  Session 1 Friday 1 June, 2018, -