Ethics of Collection
This exhibit was put together by Dr. Leslie Reeder-Myers’ Fall 2018 Museums in Society class. In studying the practices and processes of museums, we have put into question the ethics of collection and museums themselves. In putting together this exhibit that looks at two collections from two places that in many respects are vastly different but at the same time have overlaps, especially in terms of experiences of oppression.
Exhibits that deal with marginalized communities is not new. Recognizing these structures, and more importantly perhaps, how the museum can play a large role in supporting them, however, is a practice being questioned and experimented with right now. In approaching this project, we have talked about the ethics of doing so, and the ways in which we can model the space and materials available to address the uncomfortable and hard to grapple with parts of history in a non-historicizing way, as people continue to struggle with scars of colonialism and economic oppression.
Is it ethical to collect items from a community without them understanding why they are being collected?
The questionable ethics of how the Kaxinawá collection came to be at Temple is perhaps the most clear. In investigating the process of acquisition Kensinger went through, it is clear that the Kaxinawá were not necessarily aware of the final destination of the items Kensinger took. In an interview about the collection, Kensinger essentially said that there was no conception of what a museum is, so the people who allowed him to leave with cultural items did not know where and how they would be used. Headdresses, for example, are not kept to be reused, rather, after the ceremony feathers are taken out to create other items or later headdresses. Items are living in that they are constantly being disassembled and recreated. Knowing what we know about the ways in which the source community wishes for cultural items to be preserved or not, what are the implications of not following those rules especially if they are contrary to classic museum practice?
If we know items are meant to naturally deteriorate, what are the implications of continuing their preservation and display?