21 May 2020

PhD opportunity: Women collectors of South Asia: gender, material culture, and empire

The University of Lincoln and the British Museum are pleased to announce the availability of a fully-funded Collaborative doctoral studentship from October 2020 under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme. We encourage applications from suitable candidates with relevant experience, as well as coming from an academic background. This studentship can be studied full or part-time.
This project explores the critical role that women played in collecting objects from South Asia during the colonial and post-colonial eras, highlighting the agency of women of all backgrounds in the formation of museum collections and knowledge production.
This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Sarah Longair and Dr Sushma Jansari and the student will be expected to spend time at both the University of Lincoln and the British Museum, as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of CDP funded students across the UK.
Project Overview
This project will investigate the lives, collections, activities, writings, and networks of women collectors and donors of material culture from South Asia to the British Museum and other collections in the UK. It will explore how and why women collected objects and what motivated them, how they acquired knowledge about their collections and the dynamics of their donation of objects to museums.
With a focus on objects from South Asia, this project will be set in a colonial and/or post-colonial context, during which South Asian, British, and later British South Asian women negotiated the challenges of living under the British Empire and its aftermath. It will make an important and original contribution to our understanding of the British Museum as well as other institutions, demonstrating how gender, race, and empire influenced the forging of collections. It will examine how far collecting and engagement with material culture was a means for women to establish their own network, and how these factors aligned with or challenged racial and social divides in imperial and post-imperial settings.
Using the British Museum as a starting point, it will trace the lives of selected women and their collections and donations to the British Museum and other UK museums. Objects themselves will be studied as well as associated archival material. Personal papers and publications will shed further light on the way in which women collected and donated, the networks within which they acted, intermediaries who assisted them, and how this knowledge was disseminated. The research will require the student to spend time researching at the British Museum, along with other museums and archives.
Deadline: 9 June
Interviews are likely to take place on Friday 26 June at the British Museum if permitted by then, otherwise online.

18 May 2020

PhD Opportunity: Imagaining the Pacific in Scotland

Applications are now invited for a fully funded AHRC PhD studentship on the project 'Imagining the Pacific in Scotland in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries: Collectors and Collections, Museums and Universities' at the University of East Anglia and National Museums Scotland. Applications will close at 5pm on Monday 01 June 2020. Interviews will be held on Thursday 11 June 2020 via Microsoft Teams.

For full details of the project, the studentship and how to apply visit the Sainsbury's Research Unit website.

Job Opportunity: Postdoctoral Researcher: The Restitution of Knowledge - artefacts as archives in the (post)colonial museum, 1850- 1939 Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Applications are invited for the position of Postdoctoral Researcher on the project The Restitution of Knowledge: artefacts as archives in the (post)colonial museum, 1850- 1939, based at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, and led by Professor Dan Hicks (Oxford) and Professor Bénédicte Savoy (Technische University, Berlin). The position is funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), and is a fixed-term position for 30 months, running from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2023.

'The Restitution of Knowledge' is a major new transnational UK-German collaboration combining historical and curatorial approaches to understand the status of collections from the continent of Africa in European museums as colonial legacies. The project seeks to intervene in current dialogues about restitution by generating and sharing of knowledge about the ongoing histories of colonial loot. The project combines digital scholarship, provenance studies, and military history to expand public understanding and debate around incidents of colonial plunder, joining the dots between museum collections and these violent histories. The Restitution of Knowledge thus revaluates the status of anthropological museums as places filled not just with objects but also with historical knowledge of conflict, violence and loss. It explores how Europe's “world culture” museums might be reframed as places of cultural memory, at which research can start to support restitution processes, from remembrance and the sharing of knowledge to the physical return of property.

The successful candidate will hold a PhD in anthropology, history, archaeology or another relevant discipline, completed before 1 July 2020. The post will start on 1 August 2020, or as soon as possible thereafter. 

The closing date for applications is 12.00 midday on Thursday 11 June 2020. Interviews are likely to take place week beginning 15 June 2020.

Applications are particularly welcome from black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts at the University of Oxford.

7 May 2020

Call for papers: Settler responsibilities towards decolonisation

The University of Auckland is hosting a Marsden Funded international symposium in February 2021, and invites submissions from across the arts. Given the uncertain nature of the Covid-19 situation, the University is preparing to host this conference virtually if needed.

This symposium will delve into the possible roles and responsibilities involved with decolonisation, focusing on both theoretical and empirical research that explores these issues in Aotearoa New Zealand and elsewhere in the indigenous-settler world.

Papers from all disciplines that examine these issues are welcome, and accommodation and meals will be provided for accepted participants.

The deadline for a paper proposal and Curriculum Vitae is 31 May 2020.

Full details on their website. 

6 May 2020

Statement from the MEG Committee to the membership in the light of COVID19

We hope you are all well in these strange times, and managing the difficulties and
distractions of working from home, or of being furloughed. We are aware that members who
have been furloughed may not be able to access work e-mails if that is the address we have,
so communication is difficult unless people check the website.

MEG is still working. You should have heard (as if you hadn’t guessed) that this year’s
conference at Liverpool is cancelled. We are planning to publish the papers that would have
been given as JME 34, for distribution next year. We are looking at plans for the 2021
Conference and will share them as soon as we can. We are assuming that by May next
year it will be possible to hold the conference. We hope so, as the conference is the main
networking opportunity for members to meet and share ideas.

The AGM has to be held, so that will be held by Zoom on 29 May. You will receive an
invitation to attend soon, with the papers you need. Please sign up via Eventbrite as this will
allow us to know how many people plan to attend and to send you the zoom link you will
need. We need to be quorate so it would be good to see as many members as possible.
JME 33, from the Horniman conference, is in process, but posting will be difficult without
access to the envelope stock, locked in Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. The plan is to send a
pdf to all members, so you can read the papers in lockdown, and the physical journal will be
posted as soon as possible once life opens up again.

Emma Martin has been working on collating all repatriation information into a Padlet,
something similar to Trello and other planning tools. This will be accessible via the MEG
website soon, as a resource for all to use in planning for repatriations, or starting discussions
about repatriations, or just wanting to know what has happened around the world and where
sources of information and contacts are. It is an important piece of work, thank you Emma
and all the people who sent in material to go on it. If you have papers from requests or
returns that are not yet on there, we would like to add them to the Padlet. We are looking at
managing access to sensitive papers. We hope that this will become the place for advice
and information, and MEG can offer advice on individual cases.

We had planned to run a skills sharing event on writing ‘Reparation and Restitutions
statements for your museum’ at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in the Autumn,
we would now like to offer this as a virtual event instead, more details on this event will be
announced soon,

The ability to pull this material together and offer support to museums relies on specialist
staff in post. The loss of World Cultures curators over the last few years is concerning, and
once museums reopen and stabilise we hope to carry out a survey of specialist posts, to
map where the specialist knowledge is, where collections have no specialist care, and the
posts lost. This baseline data may help to argue for the retention of posts at risk and the
reinstatement of deleted posts, although in a post–lockdown economy all bets are off.
Planned events have been postponed – repatriation workshop with Manchester Museum
and Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), and the
Barkcloth Basics workshops - but we hope that these will be rescheduled as soon as it is
possible to do so, and hope that people will want to attend. The Events officer is planning
events for later in the year, and if this goes on for a year we will be looking at different ways
of keeping members networked and involved.

Take care
MEG Committee

4 May 2020

Disposal of South Pacific and Australsian objects by Derby County Council

Derbyshire County Council are looking to re-home 72 South Pacific and Australasian objects from the Derbyshire Schools Library Service World Cultures collection. These consist of statues, jewellery, textiles, weapons and shields, among others, and which are listed in the attached document. Priority will be given to Accredited Museums and recipient institutions must arrange/pay for collection from Buxton.

If you are interested please fill in an 'expression of interest form' for each object and email to esmeefairbairn.programme@derbyshire.gov.uk, or Bret.Gaunt@derbyshire.gov.uk by Tuesday 30th June 2020.
 Further details and the form can be found on the Museums Association website.

Disposal of African objects by Derby County Council

Derbyshire County Council are looking to re-home 126 African objects from the Derbyshire Schools Library Service World Cultures collection. These consist of statues, jewellery, textiles, headrests, weapons and shields, among others, and which are listed in the attached document. Priority will be given to Accredited Museums and recipient institutions must arrange/pay for collection from Buxton.

If you are interested please fill in an 'expression of interest form' for each object and email to esmeefairbairn.programme@derbyshire.gov.uk, or Bret.Gaunt@derbyshire.gov.uk by Tuesday 30th June 2020. Further details and the form can be found on the Museums Association website.

27 April 2020

Report: Truths and Reconciliations; indigenous collections in Canadian museums.

By  Victoria Adams, Assistant Curator for Oceania, Africa, and the Americas, National Museums Scotland

In 2019 I received a travel fellowship to the Association of Art Museum Curators & AAMC Foundation conference in New York, with subsequent follow-up funding also supported and coordinated by Art Fund. Using information and contacts gained at the conference, I scheduled visits to museums and art galleries in Ottawa and Toronto displaying indigenous collections, and arranged meetings with museum professionals and academics actively engaged in collaborative working with indigenous communities. As well as learning from colleagues’ experiences and seeing examples of best practice, I also hoped to raise the profile of National Museums Scotland’s indigenous Americas collections.

I met over twenty colleagues from the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery Ontario and Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Canadian Museum of History and National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; academics from OCAD University in Toronto and Carleton University in Ottawa, and the directors of OCAD University’s Onsite Gallery, and the Indigenous Art Centre, part of the government department of Corporate Secretariat Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Several colleagues were of indigenous ancestry, and everyone gave me valuable insights into working with and representing indigenous communities in museums and galleries. I heard many different perspectives and experiences, and received both encouragement and resources with which to further develop National Museum Scotland’s interpretation.

Almost everyone I met mentioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), and its impact on museums and galleries. Thousands of testimonies were collected from people affected by Indian Residential Schools, a system that existed from the 1880s to 1996. More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families, denied their traditional languages, dress, beliefs and cultural identity, with an enforced Christian education to “civilise” and “assimilate”, "to kill the Indian in the child". Abuse was rife, and mortality rates high. Results of this enquiry included financial compensation for survivors, and 94 ‘calls to actionissued by the Government. Alongside the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), museums and galleries’ subsequent policies now include increased education and commemoration of indigenous histories, as well as increased access to collections and archival material. In practice this also includes repatriation, community consultation, increased indigenous representation in the workforce, and increased cultural sensitivity and awareness. For example, between 1884 to 1951 Government legislation made indigenous ceremonies such as the potlatch, powwow and sun dance illegal, and regalia and other material seized during raids is now found in museums across the world; in recognition these are now increasingly being made available for community visits and repatriation requests.
Quillwork shoes in open storage at the Bata Museum, Toronto

My first visit was to Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and Manager of Exhibitions and Assistant Curator Nishi Bassi was very helpful in sharing her experiences of beginning the process of decolonising the museum, and reassessing previous more traditional approaches to interpretation and display. The on-site open storage of over 13,000 shoes was visually stunning, as founder Sonja Bata intended; particularly of interest to me were the Arctic collections and the current exhibition on ‘Art and Innovation’ of Arctic footwear. The Bata collection was acquired with a strong focus on decorative techniques, materials and design; National Museums Scotland’s Arctic and North American collections complement these with our historic, often more utilitarian examples, with known history and provenance.

The Royal Ontario Museum is comparable to National Museums Scotland in being an encyclopaedic museum, with a broad range of collections from the impressive dinosaur skeletons, through natural history and decorative arts, to world cultures. The Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to First Peoples art & culture was reopened in 2018 in a better location and with free entry to encourage access. When I visited, they were recruiting for a Curator of Indigenous Art and Cultures, with an expectation that the successful candidate would reshape the displays of indigenous material, and steer the museum forward in terms of reframing indigenous material within the ‘Canadian’ history galleries, as well as building relationships and increasing reach beyond the institutional walls. They will be well supported by the Learning Department, including J'net Ayayqwayaksheelth, Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator. J’net made a particular impact on my trip, as she combines passionate beliefs with practical innovative approaches to making both collections and indigenous knowledge accessible, such as daily gallery interactions, staff training, and regular Facebook Live ‘Indigenous Insights’ facilitated by indigenous colleagues, volunteers, and members of the museum’s Indigenous Youth Cabinet. She spoke forcefully on the importance of changing institutions from the inside, with the support of management, leaders and politicians; offering opportunities to indigenous people, and continuing to address social inequalities. Changes that might appear small, such as updating the claim that ‘Christopher Columbus Discovers America’ on a historical ‘tree cookie’, and installing a tobacco offering box in the First People’s Gallery, actually represent larger changes in attitude within the institution, although work is ongoing.
Tobacco offering box in the Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to First Peoples
 art and culture
at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

One of my most anticipated visits was to the Canadian Museum of History, where eight colleagues were very generous in sharing their time with me. With the Westminster-inspired architecture of the Canadian Parliament looming over the river and visible through the many plate-glass windows, and the imminent federal election making many people nervous about changing political priorities, it did seem that both here and at the nearby National Gallery of Canada, strong political influences shaped their messaging and displays, perhaps even more than at the other institutions I visited. The Canadian Museum of History has run an Indigenous Internship Program for an impressive 27 years. Interns are of all ages and at various life stages, including both the start and end of their careers. As well as the Indigenous Advisory Committee (one of six advisory committees), positions on the Board of Trustees are reserved for First Nations, Inuit and Métis representatives.

The magnificent museum and storage buildings were designed by renowned indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, who also designed the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The most well-known gallery is the Grand Hall, which houses an impressive collection of carved poles (often incorrectly called ‘totem poles’), as well as reconstructions of six North West Coast houses, containing historical and contemporary art, regalia, tools and equipment. Behind the Grand Hall are the meandering galleries of the Canadian History Hall, where indigenous creation stories, mythologies and personal experiences are given equal gallery space to more Eurocentric chronologies, highlighting diverse perceptions of time, origins and history.

The Grand Hall at the  Canadian Museum of History Ottawa

I met colleagues from both the Curatorial and Repatriation and Indigenous Relations departments, who offered insights into the many challenges and rewards of caring for a national collection with complex and evolving histories.  Three curators generously shared their experiences of designing an exhibition in collaboration with indigenous participants. They reiterated the importance of investing substantial time and resources for the reciprocal benefit of both the museum and indigenous communities, building respectful and meaningful relationships, and being clear and realistic about the expectations of all involved.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Indigenous Art Centre, as it’s more of a government department than a visitor attraction, with only a small temporary display space in the lobby. In fact, this is a huge and under-used resource of indigenous art, collected since the 1960s, and available for long- and short-term loan to national and international exhibitions. Actively collecting with an indigenous board and director, it has always reflected current trends and emerging artists, quite distinct from collections in larger institutions which target mature works by established artists, often selected in comparison to the European canon. For any curators looking to borrow contemporary indigenous art, this is an excellent resource with great potential for the future.

Entrance area to the historical galleries at the 
National Gallery of Canada, 
including contemporary and ancestral pieces.
Unfortunately the timing of my visit to the National Gallery of Canada just missed the opening of Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel, the second of a series of exhibitions of international contemporary indigenous art. However, the permanent galleries more than made up for this. Recently redisplayed and opened in 2017, through judicious use of loans (many from the nearby Canadian Museum of History), the juxtaposition of historic settler and indigenous art creates dialogues of trade and influence. A large birch bark canoe in the centre of one gallery signifies the indigenous presence missing from the iconic landscapes of the Group of Seven artists. The entrance to the Canadian and Indigenous galleries houses a striking mixture of historical and contemporary indigenous pieces, including contemporary pieces made using traditional techniques, themes and symbolism, to challenge the viewer’s perception of what is old and new. Although not all of the objects’ histories are described, nor the selection processes explained, Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow, Associate Curator of Historical Indigenous Art explained that the Gallery continues to work closely with two Indigenous Advisory Committees on how to welcome and care for historical artefacts that are seen as direct embodiments of ancestors. Further information on this ongoing relationship can be found in an article here.

Birch bark canoe in front of works by Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists in the National Gallery of Canada.

The Art Gallery Ontario has several outstanding galleries of indigenous artists’ work, unflinchingly dealing with issues of identity, colonialism and social inequality. I saw evidence of appreciation of this on a feedback card apparently written that day, which read: “I’m happy to see my indigenous peoples expressions and realities in the same space of a lot of those people who denied them that right. We still have plenty to say and plenty to share.”

Although classified together as ‘Indigenous and Canadian art’, works by indigenous artists and settlers are generally hung in separate galleries, with the exception of a few cases of three-dimensional indigenous material amongst the settler paintings. A couple of juxtapositions did speak eloquently though, such as two works by Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris (1885–1970) inserted amongst politicised contemporary pieces by indigenous artists. The accompanying label described how Harris’ “vast and unpopulated vistas…helped reinforce colonial narratives of the country as an expansive and untouched terrain”. In one of the first galleries near the entrance, Emily Carr’s iconic untitled work, previously called ‘Indian Church’ (1929) and recently renamed ‘Church in Yuquot Village’, faces Sonny Assu’s ‘Re-Invaders: Digital Intervention on an Emily Carr Painting (Indian Church, 1929)’ (2014). Both paintings dramatically flank Adrian Stimson’s ‘Old Sun’ (2005), a powerful installation combining buffalo skin, steel, sand, a light from the Old Sun Residential School, and an ominous shadowy representation of the British Union flag.

Adrian Stimson’s ‘Old Sun’ (2005) framed by
Emily Carr’s iconic ‘Indian Church’ (1929), renamed
‘Church in Yuquot Village’, and Sonny Assu’s
‘Re-Invaders: Digital Intervention on an Emily Carr Painting
 (Indian Church, 1929)’ (2014) at the Art Gallery Ontario

At the
Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University’s Onsite Gallery, I visited a temporary exhibition of indigenous art from around the circumpolar world, entitled ‘Among All These Tundras’. I joined a tour led by Ryan Rice, independent curator and Associate Dean, and before the tour he told me about his previous roles representing indigenous artists and curators. Although he remained critical of many major galleries and museums, “doors were now opening, and getting wider”. He explained how smaller independent galleries such as Onsite can often offer more opportunities to emerging indigenous artists, although perhaps the same could be said for non-indigenous artists as well.

My penultimate meeting was with Professor Ruth Phillips, Co-director of Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts & Cultures (GRASAC), and Canada Research Chair in Modern Cultures at Carleton University. An authoritative figure, she was reassuring in her position that the perspectives of indigenous artists and non-indigenous academics were both valid, as long as both are grounded in respect, with ongoing dialogue and exchange. She emphasised the importance of research, particularly into provenance, and the complexities of repatriation for artefacts acquired as diplomatic gifts and trade items. Echoing Dr Tim Foran, Curator of British North America at the Canadian Museum of History, she highlighted the nuances of trade and personal relationships, intermarriage, gift-giving and obligation, and the dangers of emotive generalisation and absolutism. Nowadays much can be learnt through digital exchange, collaboration, and consultation with both historical archives and contemporary specialists. Ancestral knowledge, practical skills, techniques, and traditions can be rediscovered and re-understood, reconnecting generations, communities, and individuals around the world. Finally, she emphasised the Reconciliation aspect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; that the real gains are now to be made in working together, rather than perpetuating divisions.
This trip was a fantastic opportunity to immerse myself in some of Canada’s pre-eminent museums and galleries, to meet practitioners leading the way in representing and integrating both indigenous and settler perspectives into core narratives and displays. As museums continue to confront the legacies of empire, and as we all face global issues of health and climate chaos, this research trip to Canada reinforced for me the importance of putting communities, collaboration and communication at the heart of everything we do.

This trip was made possible with support from the Association of Art Museum Curators & AAMC Foundation and Art Fund.