Book Review Essay and Book Reviews
Kylie Message, Masaaki Morishita, Conal McCarthy, and Lee Davidson
Conjunctures and Convergences
Remaking the World Cultures Displays at the National Museum of Scotland
The opening of the World Cultures galleries in Edinburgh in 2011 marked the renewal of the well-loved, much visited, and rebranded National Museum of Scotland, a museum that has long envisaged its role in national and international terms. Tracing an episodic trajectory over 150 years, the article highlights key moments (in the 1850s upon founding, the 1940s after World War II, and the late 2000s during the renovation) when culture and citizenship were subjects of debate. This museum historiography forms the explanatory framework for the principles underlying the development of new World Cultures galleries and the collecting of indigenous North American art and material culture. Two galleries—Artistic Legacies and Living Lands—are used to explore the theoretical underpinning and representational practices deployed, and how voices, objects, images, and partnerships were used not only to respond to critiques of ethnographic museum display but also to engender more open and optimistic connectivities.
Decolonizing Research, Cosmo-optimistic Collaboration?
Making Object Biographies
Margareta von Oswald and Verena Rodatus
In Germany, the new cultural center Humboldt Forum (to open in 2019) has become a major site of debate. It will include the contested collections of both the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art, which contributed to the negotiation of the role of colonial legacies and their reverberances on contemporary Germany. We took those contestations as a point of departure for the exhibition Object Biographies (2015), part of the program Humboldt Lab Dahlem designed to experiment with innovative displays for the Humboldt Forum. Here we reexamine our research collaboration with the Beninese art historian Romuald Tchibozo that was part of the exhibition. His call for the “decolonization of research” was the central guideline in our museum practice aiming for cosmo-optimistic futures. We argue that focusing on processes and questions engaged by the exhibition project can transform contested museum spaces to enable negotiations on ownership, representation, and memory politics.
Sandra H. Dudley and Conal McCarthy
Reframing Africa at the Royal Ontario Museum
This article outlines some recent museological initiatives aimed at responding to the important issues raised by the famous protest against the exhibition Into the Heart of Africa, organized by the Royal Ontario Museum in 1989. Despite the significant temporal hiatus from the historical protest, many of the questions raised in that context continue to be relevant in thinking of ways to engage and present African collections in a mainstream encyclopedic institution. Rather than rethinking a new, more culturally sensitive narrative, I suggest that the introduction of multiple voices and perspectives may be the only way to disrupt the linear authoritative narratives and promote a more significant and affectively relevant engagement with historical collections.
Exhibition Review Essays and Exhibition Reviews
Sheila K. Hoffman, Sarita Sundar, Masaaki Morishita, Fabien Van Geert, and Sharon Ann Holt
Hopi Renewal and (Ritualized) Performance under American Law
Helen A. Robbins and Leigh Kuwanwisiwma
Religious practice, in all its forms, is intrinsic to the Hopi way of being. The Hopi people have performed rituals of balance and renewal continuously for thousands of years, but the collection and removal of ceremonial items have created a spiritual void. Repatriation legislation has given hope that items can come home, go back to ritual use, and, simply, by the act of their return, nurture the Hopi spirit. Paradoxically, legal and bureaucratic requirements in federal legislation such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) both constrain and subvert Hopi authority over their own repatriation efforts and the items returned. To engage in repatriation, the Hopi must participate in what have become highly ritualized processes outlined in law, as well as submit to a museum’s procedural requirements, also legitimated in law. In this way, the repatriation process ultimately reproduces and reinforces the existing power of the nation-state.
Repatriation and Ritual, Repatriation as Ritual
Laura Peers, Lotten Gustafsson Reinius, and Jennifer Shannon
This special section of Museum Worlds explores the entire process of repatriation as a set of rituals enacted by claimants and museum staff: a set of highlighted performances enacting multiple sets of cosmological beliefs, symbolic systems, and political structures. Some of the rituals of repatriation occur within the space of Indigenous ceremonies; others happen within the museum spaces of collections storage and the boardroom; others, such as handover ceremonies, are coproduced and culturally hybrid. From the often obsessive bureaucracy associated with repatriation claims to the affective moment of handover, repatriation articulates a moral landscape where memory, responsibility, guilt, identity, sanctity, place, and ownership are given a ritual form. Theory about ritual is used here to situate the articles in this section, which together form a cross-cultural examination of ritual meaning and form across repatriation processes.
Engaging Anthropological Legacies toward Cosmo-optimistic Futures?
Sharon Macdonald, Henrietta Lidchi, and Margareta von Oswald
How to deal with the legacies of colonial and other problematic pasts is a challenge shared by most museums of ethnography and ethnology. In this introduction to the following special section on the same topic, the section editors provide an overview and analysis of the burdens and potentials of the past in such museums. They set out different strategies that have been devised by ethnographic museums, identifying and assessing the most promising approaches. In doing so, they are especially concerned to consider the cosmopolitan potential of ethnographic museums and how this might be best realized. This entails explaining how the articles that they have brought together can collectively go beyond state-of-the-art approaches to provide new insight not only into the difficulties but also into the possibilities for redeploying ethnographic collections and formats toward more convivial and cosmo-optimistic futures.
The Magic of Bureaucracy
Repatriation as Ceremony
As a curator who has been responsible for the return of Indigenous human remains from a UK museum, I take as a starting point for this article the dossier of paperwork and the administrative acts required to negotiate the decision about a claim and de-accession; to meet requirements for export, customs, and airline transport; and effect the return of human remains. The administrative actions involved in repatriation are forms of ritual, performances of corporate identity, and relations of power. Although museum staff and claimant groups have different agendas in this process, and the nature of their rituals is quite different, administrative and claimant rituals are interdependent across the repatriation process. These intersecting, powerful actions have the same overarching functions for each group: to articulate identities, core values, and structures of power; to open the possibility of new aspects of identity; and to articulate ongoing tensions between majority society and minority claimant groups.