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