(P015)
Breaking the Silence: Heritage Objects and Cultural Memory
Location Brunei Gallery - Brunei Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Alison Brown (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Maria-Katharina Lang (Austrian Academy of Sciences) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Sandra Dudley (University of Leicester)

Short abstract

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.

Long abstract

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?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Deported and Exiled Peacock Angels - Yezidi holy objects between concealment and orientalism

Author: Maria Six-Hohenbalken (Austrian Academy of Sciences) email

Short abstract

Yezidis experienced persecutions and violent expulsions from their original settlement areas in the last decades. Sacred places were destroyed, holy objects hidden for decades or taken to exile. European museums and collections possess Peacock figurines, assuming to symbolize the Divinity.

Long abstract

Yezidism is a monotheist religion based on Old Iranian religious thoughts with connections to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The religious practice is characterized by oral transmission and orthopraxy.

Because of violent persecutions in the original settlement areas in the East of the Ottoman Empire and forced conversions, Yezidis were enforced to practice their religion in disguise. In the Yezidi religion the Peacock Angel is the most important manifestation of God and the leading character of the Yezidi Trinity. At the end of the 19th century, seven Peacock Figurines were circulating in the Yezidi community, but some were lost due to violent expulsions. During WWI Yezidi experienced genocidal persecution, which is until today hardly documented. Refugees who could save themselves brought also one figurine to Armenia. Due to the Soviet regime, these holy objects were kept in secrecy for over decades.

Within the Orientalist approaches, Yezidis were one of the most exotified religious communities in the Middle East. Figurines depicting a peacock gained special attention of travelers and scholars, arguing that these are THE Yezidi Peacocks, representing the Divine. During my research about the persecutions of the Yezidis a century ago, I came across a private collection comprising two Yezidi Peacock Angels. An Austrian soldier, was inserted in the Ottoman Empire during World War I brought these figurines to Vienna. This private collection reflects that Austrian soldiers in the Ottoman Empire during WWI were bystanders in conflict and had knowledge about the Yezidi persecution, although it is silenced in official documents.

Making Things, Not Words: the Siege Artifacts in the Memory and the Museum

Author: Ekaterina Melnikova (Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera); European University at St Petersburg) email

Short abstract

The paper is grounded on the interviews with the people who donated their belongings to the museum of the Siege of Leningrad. I address the issue of the "artifacts of memory" which act as the material sites of the traumatic past and question the museum as an alternative to the family archive.

Long abstract

The paper is dealing with the materials of the cooperate project with the museum of the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg, Russia). The museum serves as a crucial site of local memory related to the traumatic experience of Leningrad people during the WWII which was mostly silenced during the Soviet time. When the museum was opened in the end of the 1980s people started donating it various objects which they believed concerned the Leningrad Siege or required a special venue to become the real memory artifacts. Along with my colleagues from the European University at St. Petersburg we collected the interviews with the people who brought their belongings to the museum. Among them were those who survived the Siege as well as ones who had never witnessed the war. Some of those people brought the diaries and letters of their parents and grandparents. But some brought rather new things created in the recent years to commemorate and even to re-imagine the past. Within the paper I address the issue of the "artifacts of memory" which become neither the illustrations of the siege recollections but rather the material sites of the dramatic past. I focus on the symbolic meanings of the things and the ways they are transformed into memory artifacts through the act of donation to the museum. I question the very site of the museum as an alternative to the family archive asking about the reasons the public repository is today preferred to personal and family memory.

Ethnographic Observations at Hybrid Communal Genocide Monuments in Cambodia: Globalizing a Semiotics of Absence or Presence?

Author: Carol Ann Kidron (University of Haifa) email

Short abstract

Ethnographic observations at Cambodian genocide monuments problematize hybrid-glocal commemorative representation. Cosmologically dangerous human remains on display and culturally in-congruent memorial design account for lack of attendance ultimately absencing the meaningful presence of the past.

Long abstract

Participant observation at communal sites of genocide memory and ethnographic interviews with villagers, monks and NGO stakeholders, traced the localization of Euro-Western forms of genocide commemoration in the Cambodian landscape. Hybrid Cambodian-Western communal memorials display the human remains of genocide victims. Disseminating the right and duty to give voice to previously silenced social suffering, memorials embed Euro-Western axioms of global genocide pedagogy namely the potential of material evidence of atrocity on display to promote local and national acknowledgement of suffering, reconciliation, and conflict prevention. The glocal design of the memorials integrates Euro-Western material display of authentic evidence of atrocity with Buddhist traditional commemorative symbolism. However, despite foreign atrocity tourism and the façade of culturally sensitive localization of Western commemorative models and politically enlisted formal ceremonies, ethnographic observation points to the total absence of non-elite voluntary commemorative practice. Cambodian interlocutors describe resistance to and fear of cosmologically dangerous remains on display and the semiotically meaningless hybrid memorial design. Paradoxically, sites designed to re-presence and articulate the genocide past semiotically absence the genocide pat and silence the presence of the dead on display. Findings problematize the globalization of a Holocaust model of commemoration and the "human right and duty to remember" as the new pillar of global genocide pedagogy in today's post-conflict memoryscapes. Critical implications are raised regarding the way global memory brokers, NGO donors and pragmatic politically mobile elite translate local conceptualizations of presence, absence, silence and voice and the limits of constructing hybrid culturally meaningful material objectifications of social suffering.

Lifting the Veil of Silence of Partition : The Pluralistic Roles of the Partition Museum in Punjab

Author: Jasleen Kandhari (University of Oxford ) email

Short abstract

Punjab's Partition Museum is a people's museum on the narratives of the India-Pakistan Partition in 1947. This paper considers the stories of love and loss behind the heritage objects on display and addresses the museum's role as a space of memory, healing and a memorial of the Partition generation.

Long abstract

The Partition Museum in Amritsar in the province of Punjab, Northwestern India opened last year on 17 August 2017 on Partition Remembrance Day to mark the 70th anniversary of Partition of British India. 1947 witnessed the largest documented forced migration in history with up to 20 million people displaced in the South Asian subcontinent, yet there has been silence. The Partition Museum is dedicated to the memory of the India-Pakistan Partition relying on donations of memorabilia from the Partition generation comprising octogenarians and nonagenarians to provide objects including utilitarian items, textiles such as turbans, saris and Phulkaris, documents, photographs and shared oral histories from 1947, serving as exhibits in order to examine the pre- and post- Partition era through the memories of the people of the Punjab and its legacy. This paper shall consider the stories behind the heritage objects on display in this museum on themes of love, loss, turmoil and longing for an era gone by and hope for the future. The role of this museum shall be considered in this paper as a space of memory, healing, learning, reflection and reconciliation as well as a space that memorialises the grit, courage and spirit of the Partition generation. The importance of this museum shall be addressed as a research centre that will lift the veil of silence surrounding Partition in keeping the unheard, ordinary voices of the Partition generation alive and their stories intact.

From confiscated artefacts to museum objects

Author: Maria-Katharina Lang (Austrian Academy of Sciences) email

Short abstract

This contribution sheds light on artefact transfers from yurts, palaces and temples to state museums in Mongolia, mainly in course of confiscation processes during the political repressions and transformations in the 20th century. Here objects serve as a link to the past and to individual memories.

Long abstract

This contribution sheds light on the artefact transfers from yurts, palaces and temples to state museums in Mongolia, mainly in the course of confiscation processes during the political repressions and societal transformations in the 20th century. Here objects and their biographies serve as a direct link to the past and to individual memories. Around 1900, ethnographica from Mongolia were increasingly musealised in Europe, whereas similar objects in Mongolia were hidden, confiscated or destroyed during the political repressions in the 1930s. As a research method, images of ethnographic collections from Mongolia in European museums were used to evoke object narrations on similar items that had survived the purges in Mongolia by being kept hidden or handed over to museums. In this way, new layers and histories were added to dislocated (and often desecrated) objects. Not only was the meaning of artefacts changed, sometimes their places of origin underwent a transformation themselves, such as from a temple to a museum. This alienation process is part of the artefact biographies, a part of history itself, which can be continued through memories and narrations. These relate the objects to their genealogical locations again and add new layers to them (which can be made visible in new museum exhibitions). Various individual object narrations, pieces of material evidence and modes of exhibiting will be part of the presentation.

Awkward Objects of Genocide: Holocaust Witness and "Heritage Communities" in Polish Vernacular Arts

Authors: Erica Lehrer (Concordia University) email
Roma Sendyka (Jagiellonian University) email

Short abstract

Based on collections, archival, ethnographic, and oral-historical research, we ask what insights can be gleaned about Polish Holocaust memory, testimony, witness, and heritage by examining prolific folk art made by Polish "naïve" artists, and the way it has been treated by ethnographic museums.

Long abstract

Eastern Europe witnessed 14 million deaths in less than a decade between 1933 and 1945. The local impact of such wanton killing as it reverberated in local communities over the subsequent decades is just beginning to be considered. It can be assumed that every community produced artistic responses to that traumatic memory, but Holocaust scholarship has yet to attend seriously to vernacular arts of witness. Based on collections, archival, ethnographic and oral-historical research, we ask what insights can be gleaned about Polish Holocaust memory, testimony, witness, and heritage by examining the prolific folk art made by Polish "naïve" artists, and the way it has been treated by ethnographic museums. The objects themselves are uncanny: at times deeply moving, at others grotesque, they can also be disturbing for the ways they impose Catholic idioms on Jewish suffering via symbolic forms like a Pietà or a Nazi crematorium recalling a nativity crèche, or upend accepted roles of victim, perpetrator, and bystander. What can art history/visual culture studies, oral history, anthropology, and museum studies tell us about the motivations, functions, and ethical implications of such works? What can we learn from ethnographic museums' categorization and treatment of them, and how might we exhibit them in more effective ways, to provoke important debates about cultural memory? Finally, what supranational "heritage communities" might these objects evoke and implicate - and analytically necessitate for their fullest understanding? We consider the status of "art naïve" in the contexts of Holocaust art history; museology; and cultural memory.

Listening - The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving

Author: Susan Rowley (University of British Columbia) email

Short abstract

What happens when museums listen? In 2015 Wendy John (Musqueam) asked the Museum of Anthropology at UBC to bring early Salish weavings from far-flung museum collections home for a visit. This paper discusses the resulting exhibit The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving (Nov. 19, 2017-April 15, 2018).

Long abstract

"…, I know how [to weave], but I might get in trouble, you know?" (Mary Peters [Seabird Island] to Oliver Wells [settler] ca. 1961 recounted by Rena Point Bolton [Skowkale] in 2016).

Colonization has had the same devastating impact on Salish weaving as it has on countless Indigenous practices. Mass-produced Hudson's Bay Company blankets replaced hand-woven creations. Introduced diseases devastated communities. The reserve system and prejudicial regulations constrained access to resources. Government assimilationist policies, including residential schools, disrupted knowledge transmission from one generation to the next. And an imposed international border between Canada and the United States separated family ties.

In 1885, Canada banned Indigenous ceremonies under the anti-potlatch provisions of the Indian Act. This ban remained in effect until 1951. Indigenous communities found ways to keep their cultures alive. Salish leaders proudly wore their blankets as symbols of authority and status. Ceremonies continued where family's demonstrated their wealth by distributing mountain goat wool blankets.

The resilience and strength of weavers through quiet acts of active resistance kept Salish weaving alive. Revitalization has been a slow but powerful force, radiating outward from many centres. Museums as the holders of the only examples of early Salish weaving play an ongoing role in this re-awakening. The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia grew out of the desire of contemporary weavers to demonstrate respect for and to reconnect with the works of their ancestors.

Putting Masako to rest: the story of a Hadza doll's death and the end of futurity

Author: Thea Skaanes (Moesgaard Museum) email

Short abstract

The Hadza clay-doll Masako was 'born' and given to me as part of the material collection that we co-curated and generated during fieldwork. This paper presents the story of her and how she embodies kinship relations, an access to the woman's spiritual power, and a promise of futurity.

Long abstract

The Tanzanian hunting and gathering Hadza have been an odd case among human societies. They allegedly present a rare case of a group entertaining "no belief in an afterlife" (Woodburn 1981), who have a "minimalist form of religion, where individuals engage in few religious practices and show disbelief in the existence of powerful supernatural agents" (Apicella 2017). In short, they are known as one of the simplest human societies: "the Hadza ranked at the bottom of the complexity scale; we would be hard-pressed to find a less complex society" (Marlowe 2010). However, this paper presents another story. It shows how working with a material focus among the hunter-gathering Hadza elicited narratives of cosmology, people, and objects that were all but simple and minimalist. Working with the power objects (Apter &Pietz 1993), hitherto silenced stories on intimate object-relations, extended personhood, and ritual practices found expression. This paper presents the story of a named clay-doll, and how she embodies kinship relations, an access to the woman's spiritual power, and a promise of reproduction and of futurity. Masako, a named clay-doll was 'born' and given to me as part of the material collection that we co-curated and generated during fieldwork. Her genealogy and the significance of her name was explained to me, and I was instructed to bury her if she was to die. As part of her material life-circle, the day came, when I experienced the troubling burden of holding a dead doll and being in need of keeping my promise that Masako, the doll, should be put to rest.

Curating silence. Letting the past speak from behind glass

Author: Tone Wang (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo) email

Short abstract

Curating silence. Letting the past speak from behind glass

Long abstract

In a sturdy display case at the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven, Arctic Canada, a beautiful necklace is on display. It consists of small knives made of caribou antler attached with sinew thread to a depilated sealskin thong. The necklace was purchased in Gjoa Haven in the early 1900ds, spent more than a century in custody of the Museum of Cultural Heritage in Oslo, and was returned to Gjoa Haven and the Heritage Centre there in 2013. It is one of the objects that draw immediate attention from many who see it in the exhibition at the Heritage Centre - locals and visitors study it, ask questions about it and wonder what it is and what stories it might have.

In spite of the interest the necklace draw from the many who do not know it, it turned out that those who did in fact know it were mostly concerned with ensuring its silence. During workshops to document and shape the traditional knowledge to be shared about different heritage objects in the displays at the Heritage Centre, local Elders in Gjoa Haven did not discuss what to say about the necklace. They discussed what not to say, and how best not to say it. It is this process of curating silence, and negotiating memory, that I want to explore in this paper.

'Model of a summer festival': engagements with a narrative object in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Russian Federation

Author: Alison Brown (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

This paper considers how a nineteenth century model has sparked narratives that confirm and challenge Sakha history, and examines the role of artists as people who chronicle and keep active Sakha culture, in a context where cultural knowledge is being revived following the end of the Soviet era.

Long abstract

This paper focuses on a mammoth ivory model in the British Museum of yhyakh - the Sakha summer festival - which today is celebrated as a national holiday in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Far East. The model depicts ritual activities as well as athletic contests and ceremonial architecture, and is the earliest known surviving representation of a celebration which many Sakha people consider to be central to who they are. Yhyakh has undergone many transformations since the model was carved 150 years ago. During the Soviet era, acknowledging Sakha deities was discouraged; in urban areas yhyakh was not celebrated for decades and in rural areas it took a modest form. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of ethnic nationalism, however, Sakha arts and ritual practices are being revisited and access to museum collections is key to this process.

In 2015 the British Museum loaned the model to the National Arts Museum of the Sakha Republic in Yakutsk where it impressed and intrigued in equal measure. In this paper I will recount how it sparked narratives that both confirm and challenge Sakha understandings of yhyakh, of Sakha history, and of the role of artists as people who chronicle and keep active Sakha culture. By examining how this enigmatic object has featured in cultural revitalization processes in a context where local people continue to experiment with establishing political autonomy, I consider the implications of the project for breaking through silence and for museum practice broadly.

Reassembling The Social Organization: Museum Collections, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Recuperation of the Franz Boas/George Hunt Archive.

Authors: Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center) email
Judith Berman (University of Victoria) email

Short abstract

A collaborative team is producing a new critical edition of Franz Boas's 1897 landmark, The Social Organization and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, which connects museum collections, archives, and Native knowledge while recuperating ethnographic records for current and future use.

Long abstract

Franz Boas's 1897 monograph, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, was a landmark in anthropology for its integrative approach to ethnography, the use of multiple media, and the collaborative role of Boas's Indigenous partner George Hunt. Not only did the volume draw on existing museum collections from around the world, the two men also left behind a vast and now widely distributed archive of unpublished materials relevant to the creation and afterlife of this seminal text, including hundreds of pages of Hunt's corrections and emendations. This paper discusses an international and intercultural collaborative project to create a new, annotated critical edition of the book--in both print and digital formats--that unites published and unpublished materials with one another and with current Kwakwaka'wakw knowledge. We catalogue the range of museum collections and archival materials at issue and present an interactive prototype for the digital edition that re-embeds ethnographic knowledge within Indigenous epistemological frameworks and hereditary protocols for access. This unprecedented effort within anthropology promises new ways of using digital media to link together disparate collections and Native communities in order to produce a critical historiography of the book while recuperating long dormant ethnographic materials for use in current and future cultural revitalization.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.