New Voices and Visibilities at the Museum Frontiers
Viv Golding, Research Seminar - 29th November 2006
By Anna Chrusciel and Anna Woodham
Viv Golding's seminar focused on her ten years experience working on education projects at the Horniman Museum in South London. Offered as the final seminar in the postcolonial research group seminar series, the presentation concentrated on examples of innovative projects in the museum which highlight that the view of the museum as a site of oppression for black people need not continue.
Viv introduced ideas of identity formation by using feminist-hermeneutics to theorise the personal meaning making process in museums to counterpoint the very common hierarchical and static way knowledge is presented in museums. Viv presented examples of where the museum acted as a dynamic forum for dialogical exchange. Including a project which involved the CWWA (Caribbean Women’s Writers Association). Viv explained how the women from this group wrote poems inspired by various museum objects; they were encouraged to explore the interpretation of traditional African objects from their own perspectives. The poems not only revealed how deeply the women from this group had connected with the objects in highly individual ways but also explored how different viewpoints can add richness to the interpretation of museum objects.
In her work with a group of black teenage boys from a local school Viv considered the ways in which museum objects can be used to explore personality. Through creative writing using examples of museum objects as a starting point, the students considered unknown parts of their personalities by discovering their softer site. Interestingly, Viv highlighted the fact that as well as enjoying the project, the students benefited from the time they spent with the different volunteers, stressing the importance of the human experience that projects such as this can offer.
Projects to encourage critical thinking were set within the museum for all to participate in. Viv gave the example of the Responses Project, where visitors could complete feedback cards expressing there feelings about certain things they saw in the museum. These cards were then displayed for all visitors to see and comment on themselves. In this way a dialogue was established between the visitors, which can not be achieved through using visitors’ books alone.
The problems encountered during these projects were also raised, including issues of tokenism and also the practical problems encountered such as communication difficulties arising from setting up the projects with different groups of people, for example school teachers.
There was also a very interesting discussion after Viv’s presentation where the group discussed the way the museum interprets and re-interprets their objects for different purposes and people. Is there one context in which we should understand objects by their historical meanings? How far you can go by reading and re-reading collections?
Overall the presentation raised many interesting issues regarding what the museum represents and how it does this. Viv presented the argument that the museum is in a good position to encourage dialogical exchange and to celebrate cultural diversity, and that they should also be a standpoint for certain issues, for example racism.
Something that came across clearly in this seminar was that working at the museum frontier you can’t make assumptions about identity just because somebody has a certain colour of skin. For example, often people with different cultural backgrounds living here in the second or even third generation are more linked to the British culture than to their origins.
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.