Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Africanist Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: The Visual
This panel addresses how artworks and cultural artifacts are produced, circulated, and exhibited in global markets. It follows the trajectories of representation and exhibition inside and outside of museums and traces the flow of objects from heritage and remembrance to use and consumption. Many museums are currently experimenting with new formats of exhibition and display in order to attract larger audiences. At the same time, there is an effervescence of expressive activities originating outside of the walls of museums, including performances of various types, nontraditional formats of display, markings and graffiti, and personal collections that have transformed into more formal exhibits. Digital technologies have also altered the museum landscape in the remixing and unmixing of museum artifacts and collections. A distinction may be drawn between activities that are sponsored by museums and those that have a more spontaneous external origin. Settings addressed in the panel include new venues for the display of African art worldwide, biennales and festivals, city and landscape tours with special signage, food and beverage curation, backstage tourism, and theatrical reenactments and performances. These performances call into question the role and limitations of museums as institutions used to house and interpret cultural artifacts. How are objects and performances transformed when they enter a museum space?
World heritage monuments, in particular within African contexts, provide sites for the reenactment of the social traumas of slavery, imprisonment, and political struggles. Ephemeral performances, such as those staged annually in Polish cities, incarnate locally significant memories in a format that can be publicly experienced and contemplated. Along these lines, a contrast may be drawn between historical reenactments and dramatic performances in which objects and artifacts are included and displayed. Large national museums also promote outside exhibits and folklife festivals where artists and craftspeople perform. These performances may be viewed as an outgrowth of nineteenth-century universal exhibitions and world’s fairs, but they assume a more commercial allure in contemporary settings, particularly as museums increasingly find themselves in dialogue with the entertainment industry. When these museum-linked performances are examined in comparative perspective, questions arise about their similarities and differences with regard to the commodification of the artworks and their producers. This panel concludes with an assessment of how museums operate in legitimizing extramural performances and artworks as part of their resilience and appeal to new and growing audiences.