30 June 2019

Event: Ethnographic Museums and the shapes of radical hope and reconciliation

Ethnographic Museums and the shapes of radical hope and reconciliation
 Saturday July 13, 17.30-19.00, 
Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre 

This public event brings global leaders in ethnographic museums together to consider how to reinvigorate museums with ethnographic collections, foreground indigenous knowledges and curatorial practices, and rethink assumptions about museums.

Participants include: João Pacheco de Oliveira (Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Joe Horse Capture (Minnesota Historical Society, USA); Damion Thomas (National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution, USA); Wayne Modest (Museum of World Cultures, The Netherlands).

Entry is via the South Door, Robinson Close, South Parks Road, Oxford. Register for this free event at: https://bit.ly/2ZQDBsk

25 June 2019

Event at Derby Museum & Art Gallery, 11am – 3.30pm, Thursday 18th July 2019.

World Cultures Gallery visit and 'Restitution: a view from the Regions' workshop.

Come and join us in Derby to take part in a discussion and hear case studies reflecting on restitution and repatriation in regional museums, co-chaired by Tony Butler, Executive Director, Derby Museums and Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art at Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and then after lunch explore and critique the new World Cultures Gallery with Laura Philips, Head of Interpretation and Display.

This event will be in two parts with a short break for lunch in-between.

Tea and coffee will be provided, but attendees are invited to bring lunch with them or buy lunch from the museum café or café nearby.

To book a place please email Events Officer, Rachel Heminway Hurst events@museumethnographersgroup.org.uk

Restitution: A view from the regions
National and university museums have tended to dominate public and sectoral debate regarding museums and their role in the restitution and repatriation of cultural property and yet, as all MEG members know, regional museums hold important and significant 'world cultures' collections (and may, in many cases, have more freedoms in regards to facilitating the return of material from these).

As Arts Council England looks to develop new guidance for the UK museum sector on restitution and repatriation, this meeting provides an initial opportunity for MEG members to firstly explore what the terms restitution and repatriation mean, reflect on their experiences in responding to claims, to consider the particular needs of regional museums in progressing work regarding restitution and repatriation, and to consider what role MEG might take in supporting the sector. 
Image© Derby Museum & Art Gallery.  Display of figures in the World Cultures Gallery. 

9 June 2019

British Museum Vacancy for Project Curator: West Africa Bronze Casting Traditions Project

Role Summary

Project Curator: West African Bronze Casting Traditions Project
Africa, Oceania and the Americas
Full time
Fixed term (23 months in duration)
£29,607 per annum
Application deadline: 12 Noon on Wednesday 3 July 2019
The British Museum is seeking to appoint a Project Curator to work on the West African Bronze Casting Traditions project. This Project Curator role will undertake essential collection documentation and research on the Museum’s collection of West African bronzes.  This project and the position will involve wider research of the breadth of West African bronze casting traditions and laying the foundations for a major new research project.
Key areas of responsibility:
  • To upgrade the documentation of the Museum’s holdings of West African bronzes, with a focus on Nigeria
  • To research the broader context of the collection, including collection histories, related objects in the collection, and the histories of bronze casting traditions in West Africa as revealed by the collection
  • To make the collection, and knowledge about it, publicly accessible via publication, digital media, exhibition display, and broadcast media
  • To liaise with project partners in West Africa and in the UK, along with other international partners
  • To co-ordinate scientific research on the collections, including liaising with colleagues within the Museum.

[Re:]Entanglements: Re-engaging a colonial archive in postcolonial times

This week we have another project profile on the MEG blog, Theo Borgvin-Weiss (Project Research Associate & PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge) has written about [Re:]Entanglements.  If you would like us to profile a project you are working on then please email web@museumethnographers.org.uk

Between 1909 and 1915 the British Colonial Office in London despatched Northcote Thomas, a Cambridge history graduate and folklorist, to Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone to conduct a series of surveys of the region’s people and ‘customary laws’. Thomas’ tours were conducted against a background of colonial anxiety over how best to govern the region, so were intended to inform British policies of indirect rule. At the same time, Thomas’ close and prolonged engagement with local people proved to be an important (albeit controversial) moment in the development of academic anthropology. The significance of Thomas’s work, including the extensive ethnographic archives that he and his local assistants amassed, has, however, remained largely unexamined until now.

[Re:]Entanglements, an ongoing 3-year project led by Paul Basu of SOAS and part of the AHRC-funded ‘MuseumAffordances’ project, aims to better understand the material legacies of Thomas’s surveys – comprising photographs, sound recordings, artefacts, botanical specimens, fieldnotes and reports – and to rethink their significance today. The project involves participants from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the UK, each bringing different perspectives to bear on the collection. In doing so, the aim is to explore both what functions Thomas’ collecting and documentation activities were intended to perform at the time of their creation and, crucially, what value such a rich but colonially-implicated archive might have in the present – within modern-day Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Britain. By confronting the problematics of this collection, the project explores whether, as a resource, it nevertheless contains latent possibilities for decolonisation and repair.
Phonographic sound recording, Agila, Present-day Benue state, Nigeria.  Photograph by Northcote Thomas, 1913
 MAA P.32756

[A selection of flutes collected by Northcote Thomas during surveys of Edo- and Igbo-speaking communities in the collections of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.]

Given that Thomas was the first Government Anthropologist appointed by the British Colonial Office to study Africa, his three expeditions to Southern Nigeria (1909-13) and final tour in Sierra Leone (1914-15) represent early experiments in government-sponsored ethnography and reflect ongoing negotiations between the production of knowledge and power. His expeditions were important test-cases, establishing what practical application the nascent academic discipline of anthropology might have for colonial governance. But they also reveal ongoing tensions between Colonial Office policy makers in London and the colonial governments in West Africa, in which the latter were often strongly resistant to outside interference. As things turned out, the information produced by Thomas’s surveys was not easily translatable into practical action and the experiment was widely perceived as a failure. As a result, this rich archive drifted into relative obscurity.

Mask collected by Northcote Thomas in Ibillo, Nigeria, in 1910. MAA Z 26531.

During 55 months of fieldwork over 6 years, Thomas and his assistants recorded both the artistic and everyday – often capturing intimate aspects of local life. He and his team amassed vast amounts of information - making thousands of photographs, producing hundreds of wax-cylinder phonograph recordings, and collecting botanical specimens as well as both ceremonial and everyday objects – acquired mainly via purchase and direct commission. Thomas published his findings in a series of multi-volume reports and academic articles. Today, this fascinating multimedia archive is dispersed across numerous institutions, including the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), the British Library, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the National Museum Lagos, among others – all partners in the project.

The first stage of the [Re:]Entanglements project catalogued and researched the collection itself, bringing the widely-scattered sound, image and object collections together for the first time in over 100 years. Collections-based research has generated several specific studies, covering subjects such as the Igugu masquerades of southeast Nigeria, Thomas’ documentation of a wrestling festival in the North Edo town of Otuo, and modern-day facial scarification (Ichi) ceremonies in Anambra State – all reported on the project blog. In the UK, UCL Museum Conservation students are currently preparing objects from the collection for exhibitions at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery (2020) and the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (2021). Meanwhile, the collections-based research is also informing current fieldwork activities in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Postdoctoral researcher George Agbo and traditional Igbo carver Chief Anaemena discuss photographs of wood carvings collected by Northcote Thomas in 1911

Traditional wood carver, Felix Ekhator, in his workshop in Sakponba Road, Benin City.

An important aspect of the project, now in its second year, is engaging with communities in areas where Thomas worked more than a century ago. Given the range of technologies utilised by Thomas and the precision of his fieldnotes, it has often been possible to pinpoint specific source locations. Consequently, Paul Basu and postdoctoral research assistant George Agbo have been retracing Thomas’ itineraries, sharing photographs and recordings made by Thomas with local people. This has produced interesting results. For instance, with musical instruments – where recordings made in the early 20th century have been played to current Sierra Leonean musicians, prompting discussion of change and continuity in style and instrumentation. A further study considered developments in wood-carving technique through discussions with carvers from Benin City, who responded to examples collected in the region over a century ago.

Impromptu exhibition of Northcote Thomas’s photographs in Musaia, northern Sierra Leone. Photograph by Paul Basu.

In its third and final year, [Re:]Entanglements will explore its key themes through exhibition experiments, art and film in order to engage with the collection directly and to capture contemporary responses to it. So far, the British-Nigerian artist Chiadikōbi Nwaubani has offered a series of poignant responses to Thomas’ photographs. Workshops have taken place in Benin City, Nsukka and Freetown, where artists are currently producing work in response to the archives and collections. In the UK, a filmproject entitled Faces|Voices  records the reactions of members of African heritage communities in the UK to ‘physical type’ photographic portraits made by Thomas, capturing powerfully the varied – and often surprising – responses that contemporary voices can bring to bear on ethnographic collections, their colonial entanglements and their potential legacies.

To follow the [Re:]Entanglements project and or to get involved with discussions see the project blog or join the project’s Facebook group .

Folklore Society - change of address

At the end of July, The Folklore Society office will move from The Warburg Institute to c/o The Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 
They will still have a reference collection there for visitors to browse, and a librarian to assist with folklore enquiries.

Museums and Migration: A Multaka-Oxford Networking Day

How can museums and heritage organisations support forced migrants settling in the UK?
How does this develop more inclusive working practices and programmes?
How does cross-sectoral partnerships develop mutual beneficial opportunities for all stakeholders?

The Multaka-Oxford project are running a networking day to bring together the heritage sector, organisations working with forced migrants, volunteers and the voluntary sector to share experience and learning to develop best practice. The day will focus on access to and the benefits of cross-sectoral partnerships to provide opportunities in cultural and heritage spaces for forced migrants to volunteer for work experience and wellbeing whilst reflecting on how this develops more inclusive working practice and programmes.  

With a focus on the value of volunteering for employability and wellbeing there will be talks and skills-share workshops from:

-         Multaka volunteers (Multaka-Oxford Pitt Rivers and History Of Science Museum)
-         Refugee Resource (Oxford)
-         Connection Support (Oxford)
-         Oxfam Future Skills Programme (Oxford)
-         Aspire (Oxford)
-         The Wallace Collection (London)
-         Migration Museum (London)

Free but booking is essential