To be very honest, I have struggled with this assignment.  As an Indigenous person, my education has always been very placed/experience based and virtual museum exhibits do not for me cause an adequate connection to form to the topic, information and objects shared, the differing styles and formats of virtual exhibits also make it difficult to compare the exhibits when they can be so very visually different when presented online.  After some consideration I have accepted this challenge and decided to adjust how I will proceed with this assignment and will compare two exhibits that I have been to and have provided links to their webpages.  These are the exhibits I have chosen:

 

Exhibit A: Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples Of Alaska https://www.anchoragemuseum.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/living-our-cultures-sharing-our-heritage-the-first-peoples-of-alaska/ 

 

The Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples Of Alaska exhibit is the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Exhibition at the Anchorage museum.  This exhibition is one I know very well and have visited many times, I feel very comfortable in this space and really enjoy it.  One of the very valuable things that is in this space is literal Native voices and language played in the space through a multimedia installation.  These voices and images of living native peoples are so very valuable to this exhibit and it makes sure that living native peoples have a space/voice in the exhibit to speak and share themselves.  The objects are labeled with correct terminology with a lot of information like which community the object came from.  I have been able to return to this space again and again for various reasons, some being artist talks, research and/or workshops.  This is what makes an exhibit successful to me, it being a welcome space that I actively seek and return to again and again that is safe for me to interact with the cultural belongings and knowledge of my ancestors.   

 

Exhibit B:  Change & Continuity: Hall of the North American Indian

https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/node/76 

 

In contrast the second exhibit that I have chosen is the Change & Continuity: Hall of the North American Indian in The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.  I was able to visit this exhibit in the fall of 2019 and while I will acknowledge that I have only visited once and did not view the exhibit with this assignment in mind, I do as an Indigenous individual/artist always pay attention to exhibits that feature Indigenous peoples culture and objects and critique them because these exhibitions represent Native peoples and have a lot of say in how we are viewed and treated whether intentional or not.  I remember this space feeling very dated and it felt themed but not centered around Indigenous peoples.  The use of the word Indian was very prevalent in the labeling, which I feel would be replaced if up to date input from the communities was considered and some of the objects were labeled with the donator’s name but not the community that it came from which puts the collector before the cultural history of the object. This space was not one I would consider welcoming or active, I felt like native voices were absent but I cannot recall directly if there was signage to indicate otherwise.  It felt like a limited space that did not have room for active use or voice by Indigenous peoples.  As such this exhibit felt awkward.  The museum recently fell under scrutiny for their lack of adherence to NAGPRA as described here: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/3/12/nagpra-peabody-letter/ 

 

This doesn’t seem surprising given the dated state of their Indigenous peoples exhibit, hopeful this will cause reflection and a new direction will be taken, with Native voices being heard.

Quyana!

 

Q: Should museum exhibitions acknowledge their shortcomings? Teaching style? Topic range? Whether the exhibit has been “peer reviewed”? When has it been updated?

5 Thoughts to “Tautuk (to see it)”

  1. Michael Hubert

    ERIN ,
    very interesting point of view.
    I think that a museum need to be open to learning if the exhibit has it shortfalls and be able to correct them. it is a good idea that the try to keep things updated especially if the information changes. very good read

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Afternoon,

    Great post! I do think that all museums should be transparent, as well as identifying their mistakes/shortcomings, and, always acknowledge any responsible parties (peer reviewed, perspectives or comments). I have seen exhibits where updates had been acknowledged to the viewing public. Thanks for sharing.
    Respectfully,
    Barbara

    1. Erin Gingrich

      Hello Barbara,
      I agree, I also wish that museums made it easier to cite exhibits and the presented information. It would be helpful for the academic side of things and assist students in using museums for in their class work.
      Quyana, Erin

  3. Angela Linn

    Great comparison Erin. The Living Our Cultures is an excellent example of a collaboratively-created exhibition, though it’s interesting to read about the changing experiences of Indigenous curators at the National Museum of the American Indian (The National Museum of the American Indian: Critical Conversations. United Kingdom: Nebraska Paperback, 2008 / https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_National_Museum_of_the_American_Indi/7hFh1-xwb5EC?hl=en&gbpv=0&kptab=overview). Older museums, even those with huge budgets like the Peabody, need to make it a priority to overhaul their exhibit spaces to be more inclusive of a diversity of voices and viewpoints. It is an expensive undertaking but one that can be undertaken in small sections if a museum is committed to change.
    The idea of developing citation resources is a great one. I always end up either taking photos of the exhibit captions or grabbing text off websites or social media posts. I think it would help museums be more accountable for the words they put on labels if they were posted somewhere for anyone to download!

  4. Tony Thompson

    Hi Erin,

    Thank you for your post this week! It’s always great to read your posts and hear your perspective as an Indigenous individual/artist, so thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed the video on the Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage online exhibit. The actual exhibit in the museum sounds incredibly immersive and it’s great to hear that it is a welcoming space for you! The more I learn about the Anchorage Museum, the more I want to visit!

    It’s so unfortunate that the Change and Continuity exhibit is getting more and more outdated. Especially with a name like that, you would hope that the exhibit itself changes with the time and what is culturally appropriate. To answer your question, I think it is so important that museums constantly check-in with their materials and their exhibits to ensure that what they are sharing remains accurate and appropriate. I understand that it can be a time-consuming and expensive process, but I think they have an obligation to the communities that they serve to self-reflect and make sure that they are creating welcoming spaces like you said that are inclusive and diverse.

    Thanks again for your post this week!

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