24 September 2021

UNSETTLED OBJECTS: POST-COLONIAL PERCEPTIONS OF BELONGING, EXILE AND HOME

UNESCO Chair Refugee Integration Through Language and the Arts and Glasgow Museum's Virtual global forum 

28-30 September 2021 

An evaluation of centuries of European colonialism is at last emerging and moving to centre stage. Museums, archives, universities and related institutions whose own histories are inextricable from colonialism are being forced to examine their practices unquestioned for centuries.

For many indigenous peoples their history, identity, culture and traditions are often contained within their artefacts. However, for over 300 years many activities associated with colonialism have resulted in colonised peoples being physically separated from their material heritage which may now exist only in museum or archive collections.

How can entrenched ways of seeing, collecting, conserving, and curating the knowledge and material inherited from imperial collecting become inverted, subverted, and diverted?

How can colonial institutions function as both a target of criticism and a means through which colonising nations re-evaluate their colonial past?

Can museum objects themselves act as catalysts for critique and reinvention?

The volume of demands for accountability, transparency, and repair for injustice past and present is increasing. Conversations are often harder to hear than accusations, condemnation or dismissal. We want to start these conversations. 

Themes for Unsettled Objects: Global Repatriation Forum:

  • Place: Who decides whether an object or objects are in the right place? How do we define that place? Do objects have a ‘home’
  • Relationships: objects define and can be defined by their relationships with people and cultures. Objects can tell many stories, sing many songs. Whose stories are we listening to? How do the stories that get told affect the objects?
  • Fragmentation and dispersal: Often the true importance of sacred objects to the people and cultures who created them are obscured or hidden. They may only be whole when united with the legends, songs, and ceremonies associated with them. Can the material objects survive the separation from their sacred intangible whole? What is lost when a collection is fragmented and dispersed? Who loses? Who gains?

11 September 2021

Job Opportunity: National Trust Collections Cataloguer (x2)

 The National Trust is undertaking the delivery of new programmes of interpretation using their world collections, and are seeking two Collections Cataloguers to support the objectives of this project. The cataloguing roles will support the editing of outdated language on our collections management system, as well as improving the lack of research and information available online about our world collections. 


This role is part of a short-term project, offered on a fixed-term basis until the end of February 2022. 

Are you excited by the prospect of new research, creating national connections, and improving public access? Your practical cataloguing skills and world collections research will enable the National Trust to promote under-researched collections to external audiences, and ensure collections can readily support the diverse ways we communicate history publicly.
 

25 June 2021

CALL FOR PAPERS: Ireland, Museums, Empire, Colonialism: Collections, Archives, Buildings and Landscapes : Deadline 2 July 2021

Ulster Museum and Queen’s University Belfast (or online depending on COVID-19).

8-9 April 2022.

Confirmed keynotes: Professor Hakim Adi (University of Chichester), Professor Corinne Fowler (University of Leicester), Professor Jane Ohlmeyer (Trinity College Dublin), Lynn Scarff (National Museum of Ireland) and Dr Audrey Whitty (National Museum of Ireland and Irish Museums Association).

 

We have issued a Call for Papers for this inter-disciplinary conference, which will interrogate the complexities of Ireland’s relationship with the British Empire, and of Irish involvement in colonialism. The conference aims to connect academic researchers, museum practitioners, activists and policymakers who are interested in objects, archives, buildings, and landscapes in both public and private spaces and throughout the island of Ireland; and to inform current debates surrounding collections from colonised regions, including Africa, the Americas, the Arctic, Asia and Oceania.  Further details of the conference and its themes can be found at  News | CFP | Centre for Public History | Queen's University Belfast (qub.ac.uk)

 

Papers on the conference themes but not pertaining to Ireland will be welcome.  It is intended that the conference proceedings will be collected in an edited volume.

 

The conference is organised by the Centre for Public History and Institute of Irish Studies in Queen’s University Belfast. The partners in the project are National Museums NI, the Irish Museums Association, Northern Ireland Museums Council and the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the University of Maynooth.

 

ABSTRACTS:

If you would like to speak at the conference, please submit an abstract of 250 words with a 400-word CV or academic personal website address, by 17:00 on 2 July 2021. In the event of any queries, please email imec@qub.ac.uk .

 

Cultures of Care – Reflections from the Museum Ethnographers Group Conference, 6 May 2021 by Dr Nuala Morse

As part of MEG’s online annual conference this year, I had the opportunity to present a conversation with Dr Jennie Morgan (University of Stirling), exploring the idea of ‘cultures of care’ in museums. Our starting point was a previous set of discussion that had brought out work together, and responding to a sense that our need for care, and to care better, had become ever more dramatically apparent as the Covid-19 pandemic runs on.

In my own work, I have been thinking and writing about care in the context of community engagement work in museums, which I present in my recent book, The Museum as Space of Social Care (2020). Within the book, I consider care in the very intimate settings of engagement sessions with vulnerable or marginalised groups, notably in the context of health and wellbeing programming, to a wider reflection on the social role of museums in an increasingly careless world. 

Talking of care in the museum is, in a sense, entirely ordinary since care for collections is central to museum work. The idea that the museum should also care for its communities is well-established in rhetoric, though perhaps the practice is more patchy. Certainly, members and associates of MEG have been demonstrating care in practice through their work with communities, both diasporas and distant constituents. And yet, wider discussion of care for people are currently absent from museum discourse.

The book explores ‘care thinking’ through a number of directions.

First, care as practice and capacity: here I draw out the myriad of mundane acts that that take place within community engagement session, which are remarkable as acts of everyday care – making people feel safe, included, valued, respected, and listened to. This work is all too often overlooked in terms of its time, its skills and its qualities. Caring work takes time, effort – a proactive willingness to care for others and an awareness of the dynamics of caring relations, their ambivalences and their contradictions. This is not to say that caring cannot be learnt; but it does requires working at.

The second approach is through looking at its logics. The notion of ‘logics’ draws our attention away from codes and procedures, to consider what is appropriate or logical to do in a certain situation. The logic of care is therefore about distilling what makes ‘good’ care, with clear attention to its specificity Defining care is not a fixed thing, but rather something that happens in and through practice.

Key point here is that care is relational – in order to become good care, it has to be recognised and received as care. As such, care is a shared accomplishment. We might say that care needs to be co-produced (to use a familiar museum term). This is important, as it is very possible to care badly. Indeed, care is often criticised as being patronising, and it can be used to exploit, control and abuse. Good care happens only when it is shared.

Another direction I explore in the book is the ‘museumness of care’, drawing on previous work with Ealasaid Munro. This is the idea that the museum can provide its own version of care; that it has innate capacities to care that could be activated using museum objects and spaces, and culture more widely.

The final direction is to explore an ethics of care, as the basis for a new direction for museums practice and theory (towards a ‘care-ful museology’, if you will). The ethics of care presupposes that we all need care. Drawing on feminist work, care is here defined as a broader philosophy,

‘a species of activities that includes everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, self-sustaining web’ (Fisher and Tronto, 1993)

Applied to the museum, care ethics is about repositioning the museum as active within networks of mutual support, and within wider landscapes of care organisations, both formal and informal. This defines what I call the museum as a space of social care.

In essence, the idea of a museum for/in the community is not new (and this is a good thing!). But I suggest that through care thinking, we can provide different coordinates for activating this community role.

My work to date has focused on thinking through care in the museum from as emerging from community engagement settings primarily with social history collections, and primarily local communities, often marginalised and excluded groups accessing a range of social services and formal care organisations. Bringing this discussion to MEG colleagues, was an opportunity to explore how care thinking might already feature in their own work with ethnographic collections, and their own practices of community engagement.

As part of the MEG discussion and drawing on her work ass part of the AHRC HeritageFutures project, Jennie described how care is often expressed through collecting and preservation practices intended to navigate the challenge of curating profusion. We then opened up to the floor, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about care. (note: these are here reported in my own words, any misreporting or misunderstandings are therefore entirely my own)

1) How can care be expanded across the organisation?  What about care for staff at this time?

2) Is care/the idea of the museum as a space of social care another form of instrumentalisation of culture, this time to plug the gaps left behind by cuts to health and social care services?

3) How do we prioritise care, and does caring for some come at the expenses of caring for others?

4) What can we learn from Indigenous forms of ‘caring with’? (short answer here is surely lots)

I am grateful for colleague’s engagement in the session, which has given me much to think through, in considering the potential of care as a way of articulating the future work of museums. Of course we only scratched the surface – to my mind care opens up real possibilities for different approaches to outlining the museum’s responsibility (and obligation?) to care, but also some challenges, to ensure that care work doesn’t become parochial, patronising, or worse. We need to understand cultures of care as shared accomplishment in the future of the museum.

I welcome any further thoughts and discussion, and thank delegates again for their engagement – you can reach me at nuala.morse@leicester.ac.uk

If you are interested in hearing more about the book, please do join me in conversation on July 1st, 12 pm BST for a virtual book launch Book through eventbrite. 


4 May 2021

Job: Collections Officer at Ipswich Museum

 Ipsiwch Museum are looking for a 9-month maternity cover for their Collections Information Officer.

 

They are seeking an enthusiastic and experienced person to take on the role of Collections Information Officer in their Collections & Learning Team at Ipswich, to help update and manage data about their varied and extensive collections and bring them to life for a wide range of audiences.

Application closing date: 24/05/2021

Salary: £23,874 to £30,459

Contract type: 9-month fixed term post (maternity cover)

 

Read more and apply here.

19 April 2021

Keeping Connected – Repatriation

By Johann Zetterstrom-Sharp (Chair)   

 On March 16th we hosted the first of MEG’s Keeping Connected events, focusing on repatriation.

These events emerged through conversations about what MEG is and what we have to offer, and the recognition that MEG is a community. It has been a place where colleagues have felt supported, able to ask questions they struggle asking within their organisations, talk things through and get advice in a friendly, supportive environment. We have been thinking this past year about what we can do to support our members to do important work, particularly around opening up access (including through repatriation) and decentring knowledge about collections.

At the moment this support feels important. The urgency of acknowledging and working through the colonial nature of our institutions and collections is crucial, but many are working in isolation with little, or unstable, institutional support. Colleagues are often expected to provide quick and complete answers to requests for action within organisations whom publicly promised change in the summer of 2020 without necessarily being ready for it. In other contexts there is the institutional will, coupled with anxiety over risks to funding. We feel sharing best practice and making changes collectively can help.

Repatriation, restitution and return have been flagged repeatedly as something our members feel passionately about, want to support, and see as important to their roles. In many cases, however, our institutions, processes and policies are not ready: there is no clear road map. This is a barrier for all concerned. Institutional inexperience and unreadiness (at CEO, Director or Trustee level) can get redirected towards people whose job it is to care for collections, but have very limited direct power about what happens to collections beyond their status as museum objects. Likewise for individuals and organisations who would like to make a request for the return of their belongings or material heritage, the lack of a clear road map means they do not know how their request will be received, what supporting evidence will be required, or what emotional labour will be expected of them. This is harmful and disrespectful.

The Keeping Connected workshop included short introductions by JC Niala and Juma Ondeng, Emma Martin, and Stephen Welsh, about building trust, writing repatriation policies, and processing requests. Members were then able to indicate who they wanted to speak to and seek advice from in break-out rooms. Some of the conversations had are explored below.

Building Trust

JC Niala and Juma Ondeng reflected on their experience as part of the Rethinking Relationships and Building Trust around African Collections project based at the Horniman Museum in South London, MAA in Cambridge, Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and World Museum, Liverpool. This project was focused on developing new ways of working in order to build the trust needed to have equitable conversations about the futures of collections, including repatriation. As a result of Covid-19, the project became increasingly focused on understanding and working through barriers to digital access, in recognition that for the majority of community members who would like to access their material heritage in European collections, this access will happen digitally.

Both Juma and JC highlighted how trust is not a given, it takes time and is based primarily not on models of working or templates, but on individuals and their relationships with each other. Relationships are not between museums and communities, they are between people.

A question was raised about how to work through conflicting needs and opinions within communities where the future of collections are concerned. We were reminded that community dynamics are not ours; that includes making decisions about whose opinion is most valid, but also playing the role of arbitrator. By focusing on access and transparency (about collections and provenance, but also crucially museum processes and terminologies) we can provide a community with the information they need to reach decisions that work for them.

For me this is a reminder that we are often impatient to see clear and neat conclusions that fit within the structures of ownership and entitlement that our professions already work within. What is needed is patience and openness. It also highlights that trust goes both ways: we also need to trust that communities know themselves how to manage and work through differences in opinion.

As part of demonstrating that trust, Juma noted the importance of taking the time to identify cultural gatekeepers, leaders and elders within a community, and showing them due respect. This includes ensuring they are kept informed from the beginning so that everyone is on the same page and has all the relevant information.

Repatriation Policy Development

Emma Martin spoke about the process of developing a new repatriation policy at World Museum, Liverpool. The last few years have seen the development of individual repatriation policies for museums across the UK, rather than relying on Arts Council templates. This is significant because it has in many cases forced a reflection on what these policies need to do in anticipation of a rise in formal requests made directly to the museum. For Liverpool, the formal policy will be accompanied by a document written for individuals and organisations who want to approach the museum to make a request or claim. This aims at clarity around process, with step-by-step guidance to build a clear road map. This is as much about supporting the claims process as it is being honest and open in order to manage expectations. That includes the time that it takes to process claims, the potential costs involved, and how claims will be assessed.

This honesty is crucial. Whilst it is understandable that museum leaders want their institutions to be perceived as ethical and committed to social justice, raising expectations that requests for restitution will be always granted, or that the process will be straightforward - when this is not the case - is both disrespectful and harmful. It serves no useful purpose.

Emma reflected on the importance of taking time over the writing of policy, thinking carefully about who will read and use it. At Liverpool this meant speaking with colleagues in the organisation as a first step, ensuring that the whole organisation was on board. This included senior management who would need to defend and understand the policy to advocate for it, and get it signed off. It also included an external public conversation focusing on how this policy might affect visitors to the museum. It is important to recognise that people feel strongly about the museums they love, and may be afraid of change. There is rarely space to discuss what repatriation or restitution actually means in practice, why it is important, and what changes visitors might see, through examples and case studies. The result was that the museum was able to bring people on board who were initially resistant to a transparent and clear policy that might encourage claims.

Processing Claims

Something that comes up repeatedly is the lack of experience colleagues have in working on requests for restitution. This also means that there is a lack of transparency about process for individuals or organisations making a claim. This can be a source of mistrust and misunderstanding for all those involved. It is difficult to provide reassurance that claims will be dealt with respectfully when there are no other examples to point to, likewise inexperience can mean that the integrity of a request is not taken seriously.

Stephen Welsh was invited to talk about his experience working with AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) during the unconditional repatriation of secret, sacred and ceremonial objects to Aboriginal communities in Australia. AIATSIS is a collecting, publishing and research institute dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and peoples, and led the Return of Cultural Heritage project. Stephen highlighted how once the formal claim was made by AIATSIS, the processing of the claim by the museum took 10 months. This accelerated timeframe was enabled by existing research and experience of repatriation at Manchester Museum, and the experience of AIATSIS working with external repatriation processes and policies, as well as the fact that they had been able to resource their own research process into the collections.

This is of course vital when museums are themselves under resourced to do this work themselves. Agreements had further already been made on the costs and logistics of the return, including clarity about where the belongings would be returned to. There are a total of 3039 Aboriginal and Torres Strait objects in the collection at Manchester, and 43 of these were subject to the request. It is worth adding that although AIATSIS has been incredibly successful acting as an intermediary between communities and museums in supporting the return of objects, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities approach relationships with museums, cultural rejuvenation and repatriation in other ways.

This case study highlights the importance of building strong relationships prior to the claim, but also how the processing of the AIATSIS claim was relatively uncomplicated because the senior management at the Manchester Museum trusted the organisation and its research methodology. It is important to consider the power of governmental legitimacy, and how this is difficult to translate in contexts where communities do not have that platform nor its resource to make their case, or where the case for return sits in tension with a national position. It is also worth considering the fact that there are strong claims for the return of objects that were clearly taken under duress and have significant spiritual value in other contexts, that have not been answered. This highlights how although policies often state that claims will be answered on a case by case basis, it is not only the details of the case that determine the outcome, but also the way in which a case is articulated and by whom, and how it is resourced. This brings us back to the importance of trust, and access. Without trust and the conversations it enables, we are scrambling around trying to pull pieces together into a mold that was not built to accommodate them.

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At MEG we feel as a collective that enabling the possibility of restitution to become a normal part of museum work is the way to building a better and more humane future for museums with colonial era collections. Crucially, it will help build the trust that is so vital to enabling good work, to understanding our collections better, being more representative, creative and useful to community members and visitors alike. If you have ideas or suggestions as to how we can support you, please get in touch.

Job: Programme Manager: African Histories and Heritage Collaborative Programmes, British Museum

Programme Manager: African Histories and Heritage Collaborative Programmes 

Fixed-Term (5 years)
£49,962 per annum
Application Deadline: 12pm on 27 April 2021

The British Museum is seeking an experienced Programme Manager to plan and deliver an exciting and complex externally-funded research and public engagement programme in collaboration with curatorial and research staff. The African Histories and Heritage Collaborative Programmes will involve working with partners nationally and internationally in the development and delivery of innovative, collaborative projects with a focus on diverse African histories and heritage, including pre-colonial African histories and global connections, and shared African-British history and heritage.

In this role you will lead on strategic budget and resource planning, and the reporting and management of the programme and its projects. This will involve the development and delivery of operational, financial, contractual and governance frameworks to ensure successful collaboration and the timely delivery of the programme. You will be responsible for coordination of the programme and activities with partners, managing dependencies and the different priorities of collaborative partners.

Full details on the British Museum website 

Survey: Developing Ethnographic Collections in Museums

 This survey is part of a research project carried out under the supervision of the Archaeology Department and the Oriental Museum, Durham University. The survey will be asking questions regarding how you or your museum approach the development of ethnographic collections and the process of acquiring ethnographic material. The responses of the survey will be beneficial for museums planning to further develop their ethnographic collection in the future, as it will provide insights into how different museums approach the practical and ethical issues relating to the process. It will take approximately 10 minutes. 


The results of the survey are not for redistribution purposes and will not be published without consent, but please feel free to contact wzgq56@durham.ac.uk for a copy of the survey outcome. A link to the survey:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/J5P72Y5  Thank you very much for your time.

10 March 2021

Arts Council England - Recruiting to the Designation and Acceptance in Lieu Panels

The Arts Council supports museums and collections, and opportunities to engage with them, in several ways.  Some of the most important are through the Acceptance in Lieu, Cultural Gifts, Designation and Accreditation Schemes – which ensure cultural objects and public collections are enhanced, cared for and celebrated so that they can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

 

They are in the process of recruiting for a few voluntary positions on two of the Panels that support these schemes, with more opportunities coming up later in the year. At the moment, we’re looking for two people to join the Acceptance in Lieu Panel, enhancing the broad range of skills and experience already represented amongst its members, and for a new Chair of the Designation Scheme Panel.

 

You can find more information on the Arts Council website, or by following the link: 

the deadline to submit applications is Monday 5 April):

  • Acceptance in Lieu Panel Member
  • Designation Panel Chair

 


The Arts Council also support the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, which the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is currently appointing two new members to (with a closing date of Sunday 14 March).

 


9 March 2021

Job: Vacancy for Lead Curator: Reimagining the British Museum

 Lead Curator: Reimagining the British Museum Project

Collection Projects and Resources
Full-Time
Fixed-Term (24 Months, end date 21 June 2023)
£48,169 per annum
Application Deadline: 12pm on 19 March 2021

The British Museum is seeking an innovative and critical thinker to lead curatorial and research teams in the delivery of an exciting and complex new project to place global collaboration at the heart of the Museum’s new masterplan. The Reimagining the British Museum project will develop new curatorial approaches to interpreting the collection and developing the narratives that will underpin a comprehensive redisplay of the galleries.

In this role you will manage a dedicated curatorial team who will work with curators and other specialists across the organisation as well as individuals and groups around the world to develop curatorial briefs for new suites of permanent galleries. You will deliver pilot projects such as displays, and digital or other public programmes to test and evaluate different collaborative methods and narrative approaches, producing a clear plan and framework for how the Museum will collaborate globally in the development and delivery of its masterplan. Working beyond your own area of expertise or scholarly discipline, you will provide the right environment to stimulate new thinking and debate while balancing the need to meet challenging deadlines.

The start date for the project and this post is planned for late June 2021.

Further details on the British Museum website. 

8 March 2021

New Book: Returning Southeast Asia's Past: Objects, Museums, and Restitution

 Edited by Louise Tythacott and Panggah Ardiyansyah


With contributions from Gabrielle Abbe, Jos van Beurden, Socheat Chea, John Clarke, Charlotte Galloway, Chanraksmey Muong, Duyen Nguyen, Phacharaphorn Phanomvan, Melody Rod-ari, Wieske Octaviani Sapardan

The last 150 years has seen extensive looting and illicit trafficking of Southeast Asia's cultural heritage. Art objects from the region were distributed to museums and private collections around the world. But in the 21st century, power relations are shifting, a new awareness is growing, and new questions are emerging about the representation and ownership of Southeast Asian cultural material located in the West.

This book is a timely consideration of object restitution and related issues across Southeast Asia, bringing together different viewpoints including from museum professionals and scholars in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia – as well as Europe, North America and Australia. The objects themselves are at the centre of most narratives - from Khmer art to the Mandalay regalia (repatriated in 1964), Ban Chiang archaeological material and the paintings of Raden Saleh. Legal, cultural, political and diplomatic issues involved in the restitution process are considered in many of the chapters; others look at the ways object restitution is integral to evolving narratives of national identity. The book's editors conclude that restitution processes can transform narratives of loss into opportunities for gain in building knowledge and reconstructing relationships across national borders.

"Every Southeast Asian country has a different experience of the loss of antiquities, but we all share in the deeply-felt benefits of contemporary restitution initiatives. This book makes an important contribution to bringing these questions out into the open."
- Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Cambodia

Louise Tythacott is the Woon Tai Jee Professor of Asian Art at Northumbria University, United Kingdom.

Panggah Ardiyansyah is an MPhil/PhD student of History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS University of London.

NUS Press


Sharing Collections: the future of borrowing and lending

 

 Sharing Collections: The future of borrowing and lending,is a brand new series of free-to-attend live webinars. Each webinar, lasting an hour, will include a panel of professionals working across the arts sector in the UK today. They will explore the journey of borrowing loan objects and exhibition planning, as well as share their insights on the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on museums and galleries and what the future might look like for lending and borrowing as a result. 

 

The live events will take place online from 2-3pm on the below dates, but will also be available to watch on demand after the series has ended. Each session will focus on the following topics:

 

1.     25 March, Thinking about borrowing: research and planning   

2.     1 April, Making the case and getting it funded: securing your funds 

3.     22 April, Preparing for a loan: managing change and risk 

4.     29 April, Marketing and audience engagement: building a strategy 

5.     6 May, What do we do now: the future of borrowing and lending 

 

The series is closely connected to the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, which provides funding for museums and galleries to borrow works from national collections, encouraging the sharing of works more widely across the UK. Attending the webinars will be a useful introduction for potential and new applicants to the programme but isn't a prerequisite and is open to all. Visit  artfund.org/supporting-museums/programmes/weston-loan-programme or contact Katie Lloyd, grants manager, at klloyd@artfund.org for further information.   

 

The series is supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation, and brought to you by Art Fund in partnership with the Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG), National Museums Directors’ Council (NMDC) and the UK Registrars Group (UKRG).

 

Register and find out more information about the series here.

 

BARKER LANGHAM CURATES SESSIONS FOR WORKING INTERNATIONALLY CONFERENCE FOR INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF MUSEUMS UK

 

Working Internationally Conference


Leading cultural consultancy, Barker Langham, has joined forces with the International Council of Museums UK (ICOM UK) to curate a series of panels for the 2021 Working Internationally Conference. Titled Shifting Landscapes, Shifting Perspectives, this online conference takes place over three days (16–18 March) and will explore and debate some of the most significant global issues affecting the cultural industry: social justice, sustainability and the future of museums.

 

ICOM UK and Barker Langham share a common goal to open up discussion on museums, their future and their evolution. Both organisations want to throw a spotlight on the projects and people behind the scenes that are making change in the world.

 

Barker Langham’s global team works with museums, institutions and cultural organisations across the world. This international outlook shapes every aspect of their work and their focus on identifying different perspectives, fresh ideas and best practice has been the genesis of the sessions that they have developed for the Working Internationally Conference.

 

Eric Langham, Founder, Barker Langham 

“It’s a real privilege for us to contribute to this conference and to offer our perspective on the museum world as it continues to shift and evolve. What is especially fascinating is that although we acknowledge that no single country, region or even museum faces an identical set of challenges, or behaves in the same way, the three topics that we focus on – social justice, futures and sustainability – are topics that define humanity.”

 

Each day of the conference will focus on a major global issue: 

Social Justice: Museum responses to decolonisation, restitution, Black Lives Matter, representation and youth on Tuesday 16 March

Museums and Sustainability: Challenges of working in and responding to a changing climate on Wednesday 17 March

The Future of Museums: Where are we now, and where do we go from here? on Thursday 18 March

 


Barker Langham Curated Sessions

 

The Barker Langham curated sessions will examine the complexity of the debates around each of these topics. The films aim to curate a toolbox of ideas and experiences that conference delegates can use to inform and shape their own thinking.

 

Eric Langham, Founder, Barker Langham

“It is our aspiration to make the films conversational so they work in dialogue with the conference participants but also allow us to draw on the wealth of ideas already out there in the world – creating a bigger conversation.”

 

The three hour-long sessions, each based around an audio-visual think-piece, feature a diverse group of speakers. A live Q&A will be held during each session as part of the chat function on the conference platform.

 

Day 1: Wednesday 16 March – Social Justice 


14:00 – 15:00 Barker Langham Curated Session – Just Outcomes 

In the context of a sustained move to decolonise museums, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the growth of a global debate about economic inequality, social justice has become a hot topic for museums.


Subhadra Das (UCL), Clara Paillard (Public and Commercial Services Union), Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din (National Museum of African American History and Culture), Matt and Jess Turtle (Museum of Homelessness) and Anne Wetsi Mpoma (independent curator, Brussels) tackle some of the toughest questions facing our profession, from re-centering the stories we tell, to changing pay and hiring policies, to empowering visitors to transform their communities.


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Day 2: Tuesday 17 March – Museums and Sustainability


14:00 – 15:00 Barker Langham Curated Session – Testaments from the Age of Humans 

Every object can tell a story of humanity’s impact on our planet and every museum has the power to be a voice for climate action. In this session, Barker Langham will take the audience on a virtual journey across the world’s museums and cultural landmarks, showcasing captivating and unexpected stories that shed new light on the way we think about our places, collections and institutions in the context of the global environmental crisis.


This international tour will take in institutions including the District Six Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Museum of Qatar and many more. At each museum, we will hear stories of environmental change and people’s evolving relationship with, and effect on, the world.  


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Day 3: Thursday 18 March – The Future of Museums 

This day will be introduced and chaired by Eric Langham


14:00 – 15:00 Barker Langham Curated Session – Responsive Futures

Through political turmoil, public health crises, economic downturns and seismic shifts in global culture, museums have to adapt to survive and remain relevant. Today, many are using rapid-response collecting as a proactive tool to build archives that speak to who we are now. 

 

Sharing inspiring stories of the ways in which museums have responded to disruption, this film will examine the act of collecting in times of strife. With insights from Foteini Aravani (Museum of London), Dr Aaron Bryant (Museum of African American History and Culture), Anna Burckhardt (Museum of Modern Art) and Suzy Hakimian (Museum of Minerals and Chair of ICOM Lebanon), it will ask how museums are navigating ever-changing landscapes, and shed light on why and for whom they collect.

 



Further Information


The 2021 Working Internationally Conference, organised by ICOM UK in partnership with NMDC, with support from the British Council and curatorial support from Barker Langham, takes place online from 16–18 March 2021.  


The conference is free of charge for ICOM UK and NMDC members. For booking, and the full programme of speakers and events, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2021-working-internationally-conference-registration-136012148999?aff=erelexpmlt



About Barker Langham


The Barker Langham team includes museum and culture professionals living and working across Europe, China, Africa, the Middle East and North America. Together, they are one of the world’s leading cultural consultancies, creating pioneering and sustainable projects for museums, historical sites, governments and charities. They have successfully delivered over 250 projects, from community oral history initiatives to international mega-museums. Barker Langham’s interdisciplinary team works collaboratively across curation, strategy, interpretation, business planning, audience development, research and recruitment, and approaches every project with the same enthusiasm for seeking out and telling compelling stories and for creating memorable and meaningful experiences. They are expert advisors and mentors for the UK Heritage Fund, the European Union, the Museums Association and UNESCO.

 

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17 January 2021

Review of Tantra: enlightenment to revolution British Museum (24 Sept 2020 - 24 Jan 2021) By Kajal Meghani

 Tantra: enlightenment to revolution at the British Museum seeks to demystify Tantric philosophy. Curated by Dr Imma Ramos, the exhibition challenges the visitor to rethink any preconceived notions they have of Tantra, which is often misunderstood as a hedonistic sexual practice. Rather, as the exhibition explains, Tantra is a collection of instructional sacred texts that are written as a dialogue between gods and goddesses. The texts encourage devotees to transcend desire, aversion and fear by actively engaging with the erotic and macabre to view the material world as being animated by the power of divine feminine energy known as shakti.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically and explores the history of Tantra as waves of influence. Starting with its beginnings in sixth-century India, the exhibition’s examination of Tantra continues with its influence on India’s fight for independence from British colonial rule and ends with the impact of Tantric philosophy on 1960s counterculture and contemporary artists across the world. The exhibition features objects from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, Japan, the UK and the USA, demonstrating materially the far-reaching impact of Tantra.

The first sections of the exhibition opens with the earliest surviving Tantric manuscripts (now in the collection of Cambridge University Library) and temple sculptures representing the goddess or yogini from the museum’s collection. 

Fig 1: Sandstone sculpture of the goddess Chamunda. Photograph: Trustees of the British Museum.
The exhibition shows how Tantra’s profound influence on Hindu and Buddhist thought in medieval India inspired the rise of goddess worship in parts of South Asia. Goddesses associated with Tantra, such as Chamunda, a formidable form of Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility and love, were incorporated into the Hindu and Buddhist pantheons. In Buddhism, Tantric thought led to the rise of Vajrayana Buddhism, or the path of the thunderbolt, which spread across parts of Asia and gained a particular stronghold in Tibet.

This part of the exhibition explains the foundations of Tantric philosophy to the visitor and includes an evocative recreation of a 10th-century temple dedicated to yogini worship in Odisha (eastern India). Temples devoted to yogini were circular in design with an open roof to invite yoginis from the sky to enter the sacred space. The immersive recreation enables the visitor to understand how the sculptures on display would have been positioned in relation to one another and to experience the interplay of the building and the sky during worship. 

Fig 2: Recreation of a 10th-century temple dedicated to the worship of yoginis. Photograph: Trustees of the British Museum.
 

Stereotypical ideas of Tantra associated with yoga and sex are unpicked by the exhibition to show how these practices enabled a devotee to achieve enlightenment. Sculptures and paintings from India, Tibet and Nepal illustrate how practitioners could use their body and senses to awaken their own or their partner’s shakti. This section shows that Tantra not only influenced Buddhist and Hindu thought but also interested Islamic rulers, such as those of the Mughal empire based in northern India and independent Islamic sultanates largely based in Southern India. One of the most fascinating paintings in this section commissioned by a Mughal ruler, possibly Shah Jahan (1592 - 1666), is the depiction of the goddess Bhairavi painted in the 1630s by Mughal court artist Payag (active 1591 - 1658), which is from the Metropolitan Museum. Bhairavi, depicted with red skin, fangs and adorned with a garland and skirt made of human skulls, sits on a decapitated body in a cremation ground with a man, possibly the Hindu god Shiva or a yogi imitating him. The painting was commissioned as a gift by the Mughal ruler to the Hindu ruler of Mewar, Jagat Singh (1607 - 1652), who was a devotee to the goddess Bhairavi.

Fig 3: The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum

A section of the exhibition focusing on the use of human remains in Tantric Buddhist practice as a reminder of the impermanence of the body, was developed in consultation and collaboration with members of the Tibetan community in London and scholars of Tibetan Buddhism. Listening to their personal experiences and perspectives on the use of human remains in Tibetan Buddhist practice whilst looking at the display of objects made of human bones provides a unique insight into the display that a museum label may be unable to do. 

Fig 4: Display exploring the influence of Tantra on Tibetan Buddhism. Photograph: DHA Designs
 

This and the following section of the exhibition, which focus on the role of Tantra during British colonial rule, challenges the language and misconceptions that stemmed from colonial scholarship. During the colonial period, many British officials and missionaries misunderstood Tantra as black magic due to the use of human remains and the depictions of fierce goddesses such as Kali, a Tantric goddess particularly venerated in Bengal that inspired revolutionaries challenging British rule in India.

The final section of the exhibition examines the influence of Tantra on artists based in Asia, the UK and the USA and continues to influence practitioners today. Following the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, South Asian artists inspired by Tantric philosophy came to be known as the Neo-Tantra movement and the final section of the exhibition displays paintings by Biren De (1926 - 2011), Ghulam Rasool Santosh (1929 - 2007) and Prafulla Mohanti (b. 1936). Tantra’s influence on the UK and USA, is contextualized by the politics and counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, and also touches on the first exhibition of art inspired by Tantra, which took place in 1971 at the Hayward Gallery.

Fig 5: The final section of the exhibition displaying the influence of Tantra on the Neo-Tantra movement. Photography: DHA Designs.

Tantra: enlightenment to revolution is an important exhibition with rich content and interpretation that allows the visitor to develop a nuanced understanding of Tantric philosophy and to see how it influenced religious and cultural beliefs across the world. The exhibition dispels misunderstandings of Tantra being related exclusively to sex and so-called black magic, and contextualizes these ideas within the wider framework of Tantric philosophy whilst also tracing the origins of these misconceptions. This is further explored through a selection of collecting histories of some of the objects in the exhibition found on the museum’s website. The interpretation in the exhibition is clear and the sections that highlight and incorporate community and practitioner voices enable the visitor to gain a multifaceted understanding of Tantra.

Given the current COVID-related restrictions, the exhibition and the British Museum is closed until further notice. Until the exhibition can be visited in person, the Museum’s website features a guided tour of Tantra: enlightenment to revolution, given by its curator, Dr Imma Ramos and features additional content on the Museum’s blog.

Kajal Meghani is a collaborative doctoral award student with the University of Brighton and the British Museum, funded by AHRC