Designing to decolonise
@samaylett This was done after the repatriation of the Lakota Ghost Dance Shirt from Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries, 1999. You can see some of the graphic panels here. Mark O'Neill pushed forward the repatriation and writes about it: O'Neill, Mark. “Repatriation and Its Discontents: The Glasgow Experience”, in Who Owns Objects? The Ethics and Politics of Collecting Cultural Artefacts. Eds. by Eleanor Robson, Luke Treadwell and Chris Gosden. Oxford: Owbow Books, 2007.
@claire-w thank you so much Claire, the Lakota Ghost Dance Shirt has always been in my periphery but I didn't know this (only that it had been repatriated). It's on my reading list 😊.
@samaylett Maddra, Sam "The Wounded Knee Ghost Dance Shirt." Journal of Museum Ethnography 8 (1996): 41-58. is good too - I can send you a copy if you email me.
@claire-w Claire, I would be interested in this, too! Thank you for these pointers…
@samaylett https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000lyyd Hello @jona and Sam - I just remembered that my clever colleague at UoB Veronica Isaac had drawn my attention to this recent clip on empty cases that might be interesting for you:
On 7th June 2020, protestors in Bristol rewrote the city’s history by pulling down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, and dumping it in the harbour. The damaged statue has since been retrieved and there are plans to display it elsewhere, complete with the red daubs of protestors’ paint, and Black Lives Matter placards.
The event has triggered a discussion amongst Britain’s curators about what objects are acceptable for display in museums and galleries in 2020. Some museums have entire collections established on the wealth of the slave trade or acts of colonial plunder, others have items that might now be deemed racially or culturally insensitive. For some, it’s the context and settings of collections that reveal a distinctly racist interpretation of history. As one museum curator has put it, “in Britain, you’re never more than 150 miles from a looted African object”.
Gary Younge speaks to the curators as they currently review what's on display in UK museums and how they’re re-writing the way we revere, remember and acknowledge Britain's historical moments.
As Gary finds out, when the public is re-admitted to museums after the current lockdown, there is a distinct possibility that some display cases may have notable absences.
Producer: Candace Wilson
Editor: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4
@jona and @Beatriz - like @samaylett I watched your presentations back-to-back and thought they were thought provoking in trying to think of solutions and interventions - agree with Sam that there is an important role for design and graphic intervention but in these it's important to acknowledge the audience and interrogate the purpose. As you had asked for examples @jona (and apologies if the following is not exactly what you were thinking of) - I do have an example from my own work history. @claire-w, you may be interested but it is a very practical example and in many ways, I took on the role of client but also 'designer', but mostly because it's a small museum, we had limited funds and I was keen to do something that was in keeping with the existing museum design.
I wanted to illustrate through this example that I worked on, that if the institution begins with intentionality, if we keep design uppermost, focusing on appropriateness, suitability for the task, functionality, ethical responsibility and how all these relate to the museum, the wider community and the audience we may begin to develop solutions. But I feel often what is missing is trust in the design process, intentionality and ethical responsibility.
It hasn’t been written about, so you won’t find articles on it although I have spoken about it at a Museums Association event and the Mary Seacole Trust did a piece on it. I was Education Manager for a year (and deputy Director for part of that time time), at theFlorence Nightingale Museum and inherited a project to insert more interpretation on Mary Seacole in the museum – the initial idea was to include a portrait of her in the museum. No objects relating to Mary survive but there are a few images including a portrait, plus her own autobiography . The Florence Nightingale Museum is an independent museum dedicated to Florence, situated in the basement of St Thomas’ Hospital. It is of particular importance of course to nurses globally, as Florence professionalised nursing so it is an important national and international collection but it is also in the heart of a diverse community in Lambeth so has a responsibility to its local community. As a museum, we had a number of things to deal with including a back story to Mary and Florence (Mary tried to join the Florence’s nurses in Crimea but was blocked etc), issues around racism in nursing, particularly from the 60s onwards, politics of different stakeholders.
Two further practical problems were:
-it is a small museum with an integrated design- interpretation needed to be discreet but also with a bold purpose/vision
-few visual resources or collections exist from which to draw on for Mary (which is a problem because certain histories have been ignored, erased or just not collected)
My own experience is in museum education and interpretation but I also have a background in design (not in graphics or exhibiton design I hasten to add)- and as someone who understands marginalisation and the undervaluing of black and brown histories, I managed to move the conversation from simply a passive ‘label’ to something that was more active. We developed a ‘theatre door’ (which when opened could be used to stage performances and storytelling) using a life-size image of Mary in the British Hotel, see the picture attached.
Hajra, what a great example, thank you, this is exactly what I was hoping for -- I would love to see images of this (Your attachment didn't show at my end, maybe you could repost? and maybe I could email you at some point to hear a bit more about it?)
Claire, yes, the question of statues and monuments in the public realm certainly is part of this (in a way, the topic seeped into my presentation around the AMNH statue). I don't know whether you know of the new exhibition at the Zitadelle Spandau in Berlin, 'Unveiled. Berlin and its monuments' which opened in 2016 and shows a wild selection of statues that used to be up across Berlin and have been taken down, including Lenin's head: https://www.zitadelle-berlin.de/en/museums/unveiled/
While I would have liked a little more explanation to the individual statues, it offers a way of 'taking the statues off the pedestal' and out of the public realm without, indeed, just 'willfully forgetting' them…
@jona yes of course, happy to discuss more via email. The is the original image we found - an engraving of Mary with Alexei Soyer in her British Hotel. With the help of a designer friend, I managed to crop and enlarge the image to life-size and position it so the focus is on Mary when the the door is opened, creating a display, backdrop to events and activities. It's all very simple of course- the point I was trying to make is that the museum already did actor enactments as part of the education offer so it was a neat fit.
just wanted to say how much i enjoyed your presentation. I was struck by the way in which i think we are both interested in classifying different design/curatorial strategies in order to understand how they structure visitor engagement and shape relations between different peoples across time and space. Your focus on who was speaking in these various interventions, how they were doing so and with what effect seems to me similar to the kinds of questions I am asking as well with my notions of different pedagogical styles. Interestingly, labels are part of what i focus on as well! The question of voice and how that is embedded in both text and design is just so important for how questions of temporality then translate to what possibilities visitors then have to engage with their own position in relation to the past, to the museum itself, to constructions of knowledge and to their own relationship to the people whose histories they are engaging with. Thank you for the opportunity to learn how you approach these questions through your analysis of how labels play with time, narrative and voice and thus with politics and poetics.
Dear all (this thread has grown),
Claire thank you for posting the Gary Younge empty cases, it was a great listen. And it made me remember the artist/activist statue that was put up in place of Colston which similarly caused some controversy.
Hajra (I've still not learnt how to tag people), I really like what you say about intentionality and the active in designing for a purpose. It was the case with the MoL that labels were viewed in their typical way, top/middle/lower tier information for didactic purposes but no intentionality in terms of contact and as Andrea has mentioned voice and temporality.
I've just come across this (attached) -going back to restitution- having stumbled across it on twitter. The item is on permanent loan and the language is ropey at beat, but a graphic interventions non the less at the BM in their empire and collecting trail.
@h_will2 Hajra, thank you! I will get in touch post-conference -- looking forward to unpacking all of this conversation (@samaylett Sam, indeed, this thread has grown! I need to make sure to save it in some way…)
I just saw a thread on the BM empire and collecting trail, too (you attachment didn't come through but I think I know which object you refer to) -- this is another good example, one could unpick not only the words but, again, also its graphic design and the way in which it visually stays within the institutional language/format…
@awitcomb Andrea, thank you so much for your comments -- indeed, your conceptualisation of different pedagogies really struck a chord with me, as precisely, I feel the modes of experience (and perhaps levels of reading content) are crucial in disentangling the 'typology' a little bit and push for more precise examination of what happens in these instances especially with a view to how they are then read/engaged with by audiences.
Yes, labels -- such mundane objects and yet…!
@samaylett Hi Sam- I think it's good to keep purpose and intention in mind, particularly in thinking about audiences and intention for me brings in issues of ethics (towards the subject as well as people you are working with).
I'd like to hear more about your research and the labels you mention at MoL. May be we can pick this up afterwards.
Thank you for your comments, @samaylett. I totally agree with you, absence could also allow self-criticism if it is explained. The important thing here is to make evident that there is a missing object instead of its mere removal.
I also think that the presence of these objects is a reminder of their colonial violence, is just that restitution is often made as a simple, even naive attempt to erase the past, a form of political correction that avoids to go deeply into the complexity of geopolitical contexts, when it is precisely this complexity that makes the situation an opportunity for curators and designers, to change discourses in reflective and creative ways.
Yes let's definitely do that. I think there will be lots of follow ups from the conference. It's great to see the amount of sharing and engaging with ideas online in he same way we would in person.
@beatriz_mtzsosa Yes, I totally agree, I didn't think of the nuance between absence and removal, and this will give me much to chew over 🙂 Thank you.
And again, totally agree, with how the debate over restitution is often simplified. I gave a paper concerning this at the OU the other month, looking at the often febrile and polarised nature of the debate. And certainly, not much though or attention (from what i've seen researching the Bronzes) is given to people and their views, historically or in the present, about restitution.
Thanks again for such a great paper 🙂