Managing Collections Week 4 – Reading week

  • As part of our proposal we decided that admitting lack of culturally specific expertise, lack of institutional prestige and also lack of a pre-existing network including a foundation of trust, would be beneficial. We hoped it would make it clear to tutors that we recognise the challenges of collaboration, and to show we are thinking about this at the early stages. Another related issue, is that we recognised in the proposal that we wish to de-centre ourselves and in order to do so we decided to leave some things ‘open’ or undecided. For example, we collectively decided that the title [in]visibility was problematic. Primarily because 6 out of 7 of our group (including myself) are white and the title could be misconstrued as us labelling minority and marginalised communities as invisible. We listed key words that could be included in a title, alongside the following statement: A tenet of the interpretive rationale is to de-centre ourselves in facilitation of amplifying local voices. Within this, we have recognised that we cannot predict the kinds of stories and experiences that will come to the fore during the collection process (Reilly and Lippard, 2019). Therefore, it is largely unsuitable to discern a title that encompasses experiences that we do not yet know of. We expect that our title will develop alongside modes of indirect collaboration. Alternatively, we may propose that the audience formulates the title themselves and identifies the language and terminologies they are most comfortable with. I think the amount of guidance, control and curation that we as a group exert over certain elements of this exhibition is hard to navigate. We are creating and curating the project and need to set realistic parameters, but at what point are we leaving too much up to our collaborators? I expect this to come up in our feedback next week.
Bodys Isek Kingelez in Magiciens de la terre
  • I read a chapter of Curatorial Activism by Maura Reilly and Lucy Lippard – a book I purchased over the summer, realising it would undoubtedly become relevant at some point during this academic year. The section of the book is titled Tackling white privilege and western-centrism. It talks about how the art world is one of the last bastions of white-supremacy through exclusion. It names a number of exhibitions that were considered as landmarks in their departure from traditional European curatorial practice. This includes: Magiciens de la terre (1989), The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s (1990) and Mining the Museum (1992-93). This was a good opportunity for me to research a number of exhibitions I haven’t previously heard of and brush up further on my Art History knowledge (an area I have identified as a gap in my knowledge).
The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980’s
  • The primary goal for these activist exhibitions was to include minority artists and to self-consciously depart from Euro-US and monocultural perspectives. This text also reminded me of an issue I had begun reading about over the summer: the burden of representation. The following quote summarised it:

African American art historian Beryl Wright has explained that if black artists produce work that is not “visibly black,” offering a point of resistance for white art historians, curators, and critics, it cannot be easily ghettoized, as “it’s harder to control work that doesn’t fit white people’s perceptions of who black people are.”

Reilly & Lippard, 2019
  • I am interested in exploring this idea of the burden of representation, and think it could be relevant to discuss in relation to our project in my individual assignment. More to follow on that next week after I’ve done some research and met with Andy to discuss ideas.
Found on:
  • One of our tasks this week was to read up on Intersectionality. I have a basic understanding of this theory, but need to understand it thoroughly from an academic perspective. I therefore decided to read Kimberle Crenshaw’s Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, the seminal text in which intersectional theory was created. It was incredibly helpful to read not just for the project but in my day to day life. I believe this is one of the most important pieces of literature I’ve read and I expect to return to it.
Frida Kahlo shoes showing signs of wear.
  • Our lecture last week was run by conservation staff from Manchester Museum and the Whitworth. This week we had the option to drop in on a condition checking session. We each brought along our objects or described them to Irit Narkis from the museum. I explained that I had a 100% white cotton t-shirt which at present seemed to be in perfect condition – but because it is exposed to COVID it has to be washed at 60 degrees weekly, so it may be in good condition now but washing at this temperature is likely to deteriorate the material over time. They may also become misshaped, stained and torn as they are worn so frequently. Irit made the very astute point that actually embracing the used quality of the item would be beneficial. I’m reminded of my placement essay where I chose a deteriorated and somewhat neglected item of clothing from the stores at the Walker Art Gallery to talk about underused collections. I saw huge potential in the used characteristics of the item, it allowed me to talk about indiscriminate collecting methods, challenges that face collection managers today as a result (namely over-burdened storage), but also demonstrated how one seemingly mundane and poor quality item can tell both intimate and broad stories that are worth preserving. I really enjoyed learning about an exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s hand made clothing – the curators highlighted the used qualities, areas where clothing had been repaired or marked with paint. Each stain, tear and repair is intimately revealing of the artists way of life.

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