Council for Museum Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Reflective and reflexive conversations about exhibits with stakeholding audiences are rarely built into museum practice post-installation. Scholarship has thoroughly documented and evaluated museum processes of collaboration and community participation, but the products of these projects are often not given the same attention. This paper explores how continued discussion with stakeholding audiences can refine future exhibits. Specifically, I consider 'In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art,' which is the inaugural exhibit for the Elspeth McConnell Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks and is located in the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Developed by three curators in conjunction with thirty First Nations artists and scholars, 'In a Different Light' frames displayed objects as art, but also presents non-aesthetic meanings attributed to these objects. Through semi-structured interviews and self-guided exhibit viewings, I discussed this exhibit with associated curators and with four Indigenous women, who are current students or recent graduates of UBC programs. Synthesizing their exhibit reflections, I analyze the effects of curatorial choices, specifically examining notions of ‘connection.’ Contributing Indigenous interviewees described feelings of closeness or distance in relation to an object and how these feelings were impacted by the information included within displays. This paper reflects on conflicting understandings of what displayed objects are supposed to do, and explores social justice issues surrounding the ways exhibits frame objects and information. I posit it is a missed opportunity to treat installed exhibits as finished products, as representations that would not benefit from continued examination.