5 September 2016

Call for Papers: Cloth & Costume in Ethnographic Museums: New Directions in Research, Care & Interpretation




Detail of Ainu coat, Japan. Made from brown and blue striped cotton trade cloth and decorated with European lace. Pitt Rivers Museum 1892.56.12. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. 
MEG Annual Conference Thursday 6th-Friday 7th April 2017
The Hunterian & Centre for Textile Conservation, University of Glasgow

Call for Papers:

Cloth & Costume in Ethnographic Museums: New Directions in Research, Care & Interpretation

The 2017 conference theme addresses cloth and costume. Cloth is a unique technology: Light and flexible but presenting large surfaces and capable of taking innumerable colours and structures, it covers and divides things, reveals and connects them. Clothing and costuming the body - to protect and conceal it, to make it beautiful or terrifying, to transform or display its many identities – bring persons and statuses into the performed social world. Since remote prehistory, cloth and costume have both created demands and opportunities for humans to devise many of our most ingenious, delicate and technically complicated artefacts.

From Inuit gut parka to ancient Nazca textiles, traditional West African grand boubou costume to Maasai beadwork, Scottish plaid to Italian tapestries, Persian rugs to Indian sari to Balinese dance masks, Bismarck Archipelago masquerade puppets to Samoan barkcloth lavalava; the cloth and costume in our World Cultures collections are immensely rich, diverse and culturally significant. In recent centuries, cloth and costume have also become important material sites for the contestation of identities and moralities, economic globalisation and colonial acculturation. From the worldwide trade in European mill-woven, chemically dyed and printed textiles, to the battles of Christian missionaries with imagined states of immoral native undress, to the recent conflict between the French government and wearers of hijab and burkini, the globalisation of Western dress conventions has powerfully impacted on the world’s other material cultures.


Detail of the design on a batik jacket, part of a girl's costume, China. Pitt Rivers Museum 2000.34.3 .1. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. 
How, then, do we weave together these many strands in the ethnographic museum? What is the current state of research into world cultures cloth and costume collections, and what new approaches are we developing to understand them better? How are historical textiles and costume being curated in the world’s museums, and reimagined in the world’s contemporary art scenes? Are we engaging with contemporary world fashion, or trapped in perpetuating stereotypical imaginings of an ‘authentically dressed’ ethnographic past that may never have existed? How can we collections manage these challenging objects better? What are the particular conservation problems of ethnographic textiles and costume, and how can we better care for them in the future? How are we exhibiting cloth and clothing in 2017? Are we capitalising on costume’s universal appeal in our displays and education programmes?

Titles and 200-word abstracts for papers addressing these and other questions are warmly welcomed from all. Two standard formats are offered to presenters: A full Conference Paper to last twenty minutes, and a shorter ten minute Work in Progress presentation. Please email your proposed title, abstract and format choice (or any queries) to Andrew Mills by Monday 6th February. Full details on registration, accommodation and the programme will be published in the New Year. 

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