(P050)
Re-thinking Source Communities: Plural, Urban Indigenous Communities and Cosmopolitan Objects
Location British Museum - BP Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Cara Krmpotich (University of Toronto) email
  • Maureen Matthews (The Manitoba Museum) email

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Short abstract

These papers look at the possibilities of a new world of museum practice where source communities cannot be conveniently rounded up into a bounded, culturally distinct community and where museum objects are not nearly as fixed/stable/singular as our classifications systems would have us believe.

Long abstract

Museums were once committed to the idea of bounded indigenous cultures and ordered their artifact collections like cultural specimens to instantiate exclusive indigenous identities with artifacts which bore witness to these identities. In spite of the fact that museum staff no longer expect these categories to bear any relation to their contemporary practice, the institutions still retain taxonomic classificatory regimes in storage structure and data base systems which suggest a reliance on this imposed cultural colonialism. These papers look at the new world of museum practice where source communities cannot be conveniently rounded up into a community and where indigenous urbanity opens up all kinds of new forms of cultural authority. It is this urban group who are framing the current debates about authenticity in writing and cultural expression and their views will have an impact on any museum interested in reflecting their legitimate concerns. In this world museum objects reflect this plural identity and are not nearly as fixed/stable/singular as our classification systems would have us believe. Indigenous learning methodologies, especially "deep hanging out" with artifacts, painstaking artistic reproductions and intensive interrogation of collections facilitate discussions of personal and community identity which are matched by the biographical complexity and dynamic presence of artifacts as active social entities with complex communities of their own in the past and in the present.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Canadian indigenous hip hop practices and productions

Author: Claudia Gualtieri (The University of Milan) email

Short abstract

This paper discusses Canadian indigenous urban youth culture and art by focusing on some indigenous hip hop communities and artists, and on the production of artistic objects and cultural practices.

Long abstract

This paper discusses Canadian indigenous urban youth culture and art by focusing on some indigenous hip hop communities and artists, and on the production of artistic objects and cultural practices. Hip hop will be described as a contemporary strategy that helps to represent indigenous identity, to articulate claims on aboriginal land, to re-appropriate urban space, and to bring to the fore aboriginal youth art. The methodological approach is based on Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Theory. As one reads in Noisey: "Indigenous rappers in Canada reflect on a unique struggle. In a country where the most incarcerated population is aboriginal, these artists reflect on the crisis of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, conflicts around resource extraction on native land, and the protest movement Idle No More, which galvanized aboriginal communities from coast to coast."

Among the case studies, "Beat Nation" will be presented ("Beat Nation. Hip hop as indigenous culture" http://www.beatnation.org/). Beat Nation artists hybridise elements of urban youth culture - graffitis, DJing, MCing, breakdancing - with aboriginal knowledge, reflecting the condition of First Nation people today and producing objects that are both local and cosmopolitan. Like hip hop, other artistic practices, such as Boarder X, which uses skating and skateboarding, body art, and exhibitions, in different ways produce artefacts and practices that express the political voice of indigenous youth in contemporary Canada. Hip hop urban artists and communities speak both to their nation and to the wide world which they reach through the web.

Nuxalktimutaylayc - Transforming Museum Engagement into a Nuxalk Way of Being

Author: Jennifer Kramer (University of British Columbia) email

Short abstract

Indigenous material culture long held in museum storerooms can be mobilized into living ancestral treasures by a multi-sensorial process of engagement Nuxalk knowledge holder, Snxakila (Clyde Tallio) of Bella Coola, BC calls Nuxalktimutaylayc - a transformation into a Nuxalk way of being.

Long abstract

Since 2013, Nuxalk alkw (speaker for the hereditary leaders) and Indigenous cosmopolitan knowledge holder, Snxakila (Clyde Tallio) and anthropologist and museum curator, Jennifer Kramer have been visiting Nuxalk collections held in museums across North America (the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, the Chicago Field Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City). These collaborative, multi-sensorial engagements to recognize and mobilize Indigenous material culture from fixed and classified museum artifacts into unbound, living ancestral treasures is the subject of this paper. We argue that the Nuxalk resist externally imposed knowledge systems by using the energy, confidence, and emotional strength garnered from visiting historical physical objects (and the catalogue and archival records written about them) to activate a renewed Nuxalktimutaylayc - a transformation into a Nuxalk way of being. These meetings in museum storerooms and exhibition galleries have the potential to reverberate locally and globally by reaching rural and urban audiences with the voices of the Nuxalk. They also act as springboard and catalyst for the bringing home of Nuxalk ways of being as the Nuxalk Nation builds their own Big House, and works to secure sovereignty over Nuxalk territory by reinstating ancestral governance.

Identities and meanings of the Powhatan Mantle: 400 years and counting

Author: Giovanna Vitelli (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) email

Short abstract

Research on the Powhatan Mantle examines its various identities that have intertwined over 400 years. The museum's recent engagement with Indigenous communities balances the Mantle's Indigenous importance, both historic and modern, with its value as a marker of Early Modern knowledge creation.

Long abstract

Early historic ethnographic objects are often unmoored from their communities of origin because they lack provenance and detail of makers and users. Many of these objects reside in art museums, where their historic contexts, both indigenous and European, remain uncertain and under-researched.

At the Ashmolean Museum, a cross-disciplinary programme of research and forensic analyses begun on the Powhatan Mantle in 2017 has sparked reflections on the different strands of meaning that have become intertwined over four centuries. The Museum's emergent sensitivity to source communities and recent engagement with Indigenous specialists and scholars has highlighted the deep and powerful stories of the Powhatan Mantle, from its 17th century presence in the University's earliest collections to its continued influence in the wider Indigenous imagination.

The Museum's intentionally flexible research approach has made space for traditional practice and making alongside historical and forensic studies, as well as enabling contemporary community engagement. The long history of the Mantle lends itself to multiple and changing meanings, balancing a significant Indigenous identity with value as a marker of early modern European knowledge creation.

Meshkwajisewin: Paradigm shift

Author: Maureen Matthews (The Manitoba Museum) email

Short abstract

This paper looks at the impact of an Indigenous Scholar in Residence program at the Manitoba Museum which overturns the paradigm of source communities as former makers of beautiful things, former experts and reinforces indigenous expertise and authority in the museum.

Long abstract

This paper looks at the impact of an Indigenous Scholar in Residence program at the Manitoba Museum, now in its third year, which enables indigenous graduate students to engage in a serious amount of "deep hanging out" with the museum's collections. In addition to broad access to the 20,000 objects of indigenous manufacture at the museum, a combination of important Manitoba collections and the Collection of the Hudson's Bay Company, students work individually with objects of their choice and meet and talk with community researchers, beaders, and makers. The Scholar in Residence program overturns the paradigm of the source community as a rural, cultural uniform, geographically stable entity and of source communities as former owners of objects, former makers of beautiful things, former experts. "Source community" scholars in the middle of their academic studies are welcomed to the museum and have full access to the objects that interest them. The scholarship privileges scholar's contemporary indigenous expertise and returns the objects to conversation with contemporary artists and thinkers making new and beautiful things and coming to new understandings about their past . The Scholars in Residence program complicates the idea of bounded "source community" identities because the objects are no more bounded than their academic interlocutors.

Possibilities for Urbanizing and Indigenizing Collections

Author: Cara Krmpotich (University of Toronto) email

Short abstract

This paper centres upon a collection of Indigenous material heritage and a collective of Indigenous women who call the city of Toronto home. Specific attention is given to souvenir art, its capacity to express urban Indigenous culture, and the need to urbanize and indigenize collecting norms.

Long abstract

This paper centres upon a collection of Indigenous material heritage and a collective of Indigenous women, all of whom now call the city of Toronto their home. Roughly the same age, and from similarly widespread origins, the women's lives and the objects' lives came together regularly and intimately during the course of a four-year program called "Memory, Meaning-Making and Collections" - a partnership between the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto community organization, the First Story Toronto Indigenous community history group, and an interdisciplinary team of university researchers. The program sought to bring urban Indigenous seniors together with the collection as a means of learning about the people and urban Indigenous experience. This paper, then, explores what happens when collections are used to learn about people, rather than when people are used to learn about collections. Particular emphasis is given to an inherently intercultural kind of object: "souvenir" or "tourist" art. The mobility, hybridity, adaptability, aesthetics and beauty of these items frequently places them at the centre of family stories, personal memories, and expressions of urban Indigenous culture. Yet, urban Indigenous life (like souvenir art) sits uneasily in the categories and norms of collecting institutions. Ultimately, I seek to offer possibilities for indigenizing and urbanizing collections.

We Are All One: Residential School Art Collections and Survivor Communities

Author: Andrea Walsh (University of Victoria) email

Short abstract

Collections of children's art from residential schools in Canada challenge museums by their refusal to fit existing ethnographic classifications, and their primary connection to individual persons versus collective identities. So being, they may reveal their potential for healing/truth telling.

Long abstract

In 2013 the University of Victoria repatriated a rare collection of mid-20th century paintings to Survivors of the Alberni Indian Residential School that they created as children. The return and subsequent collaborative exhibition work between the university and Survivors brings forth challenges to the curation and management of collections of children's art from Canadian residential schools. Collections were often created by former teachers and staff of the schools with little or no documentation as to their acquisition of the art, thus raising issues of ownership and power-over authority of children in the schools. The collections were created mostly as personal or professional mementos, and not as exemplary pieces of regional styles. The collections range in media from graphite pencil and poster paints on paper, to quillwork, carving and beadwork, for examples, depending on the locations of the schools. As such, they do not easily fit into ethnographic categories of traditional cultural, economic, or ceremonial objects. Given the schools held populations of children from mixed cultural backgrounds, approaching the artworks as the intellectual property and creative legacy of individuals who attended the schools is appropriate following the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to record the stories of individual Survivors. However, even when names are available for artworks, and Survivors can be located and they give their consent to the art's exhibition, the potential for the art to be a form of truth telling must be considered alongside ethics of exhibiting children's art created in contexts of trauma.

Visiting Old Ladies: Object Persons, Pedagogy, and Memory

Author: Sherry Farrell Racette (University of Regina) email

Short abstract

An ongoing multi-site project has been exploring ways to understand objects in their historical context and develop relationships with the items we study. We are nurturing and documenting pedagogies of engagement that incorporate Indigenous epistemologies, acknowledge object personhood, and facilitate their roles as teachers and storytellers.

Long abstract

This ongoing project began with well-documented collections of material created by Metis women from the historic Red River Settlement in Manitoba. Unlike many objects that drift orphan-like into museums bereft of provenance, or items acquired by collectors with institutional or academic agendas, these objects reflect the evolving needs, interests, and movements of families over time. They became teachers and storytellers.

Objects stand as material witnesses and physical traces of community stories and historic events. As Eelco Runia described in his discussion of the “presence” of history, objects can act as holes, punctures or leaks, through which “the past discharges into the present”. This can be expanded into the notion of objects-as-portal, both triggering and holding memory, inviting us to step through and engage in the speculative creation of meaning.

Currently engaging several sites, the project connects archival resources, community memory, and resilient arts practices to provide deep context for understanding these objects and learning from them. This includes lengthy periods of building relationships and “visiting” with participants, guests, and the object-persons. How does deeper engagement change the museum research experience? Have the academic fields of art history, museum studies, and Indigenous studies adapted their curricula to reflect the changing object-relationships Indigenous people seek in museums? What are effective pedagogies that enable students and faculty to move beyond “talking about” to doing? This paper will focus on the specific research findings, methodologies, and pedagogical approaches to facilitate learning from person-objects (visual listening), sensory engagement (sight, touch and smell), and knowledge transfer.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.