Saturday, 19 September 2020

Our homogeneous teams and our dreams of diversity

Jemma Desai, auhor of "This work isn't for us".

In 2020, the International Day of Museums (IMD) theme was “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”. In the field of Culture, we normally reflect on these concepts considering our so-called “audiences”. We express our wish to attract more people, diverse people, and to become a place “for all”.

The 2020 IMD theme allowed me to take one step forward (or is it backwards?) and consider: can we ever hope to become more relevant and create relationships with diverse people (the “audience”) if we ourselves (the teams) remain stubbornly homogeneous? I had the opportunity to first ask this question in a short video for the Municipal Museum Carlos Reis on IMD and more recently in a mini-conference for the Museum of the City of Aveiro, entitled “Museums, Education and Diversity”. This was also one of the points the cultural association Acesso Cultura | Access Culture, where I work, raised when commenting on the preliminary report of the Museums in the Future Project Group.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Our "tea and sympathy" values


In November 2016, a photo of the smiling director of the Byzantine and Christian Museum
 in Athens, Aikaterini Dellaporta,  next to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, provoked in me a deep discomfort. It was the inauguration of the exhibition “Hermitage: Gate in History”. I expressed my discomfort by sharing its causes on the museum’s Facebook page:

Mr. Lavrov’s government is air striking civilians in Syria (including the children we see on TV and which break our hearts), supporting a dictator. They also invaded a neighbouring country and are occupying part of it. Why did the Greek Government and the Byzantine Museum give a chance to the Russian Foreign Minister and his government to appear… civilised? 

Friday, 4 September 2020

Are we with the bees or with the wolves?

 

Tania Bruguera, Marquee from Escuela de Arte Útil, 2017-ongoing. 
Installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, March 2020. 
Photo: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The Golden Dawn trial started in April 2015. The extreme-right-wing-party, holding at the time 17 seats in the Greek Parliament, was accused of being an organised criminal association which had perpetuated the murder of musician Pavlos Fyssas and the attempted murders of the Egyptian fisherman Abuzeid Ebarak and various members of the communist union PAME. In January 2020, the lawyer of Ebarak, Thanassis Kabagiannis, made his closing statement, saying: “Because on that wild night, it was not only the world of wolves that acted, because those who attacked Pavlos Fyssas were a herd of wolves. The world of bees also acted, emerged, the world of solidarity, of humanity, the world that sees a fallen man, covered in blood, in need, and doesn't say 'look, a stranger', but says 'look, my brother.'”

Saturday, 11 July 2020

The "threat" of museologists



In his book “The constructivist museum”, George Hein quotes Edward Forbes (a British naturalist) who in a 1853 lecture said that curators may be prodigies of learning, and yet unfit for their posts, if they do not know anything about pedagogy, if they are not equipped to teach people who know nothing.

Years later, in 1909, one of my greatest inspirations, Newark Museum director John Cotton Dana said that “A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questioning and thus promotes learning. (...) The Museum can help people only if they use it; they will use it only if they know about it and only if attention is given to the interpretation of its possessions in terms they, the people, will understand”. And it was in 1917 that he wrote: “Today, museums of art are built to keep objects of art, and objects of art are bought to be kept in museums. As the objects seem to do their work if they are safely kept, and as museums seem to serve their purpose if they safely keep the objects, the whole thing is as useful in the splendid isolation of a distant park as in the centre of the life of the community which possesses it. Tomorrow, objects of art will be bought to give pleasure, to make manners seem more important, to promote skill, to exalt handwork, and to increase the zest of life by adding to it new interests.” (both quotes come from Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift” by Gail Anderson).

Sunday, 14 June 2020

My responsibilty for this vandalism

Father António Vieira's statue in Lisbon (Photo: Nuno Fox, for the newspaper Expresso)

The vandalism, destruction or removal of statues is not today’s “fashion”. I already knew that, but I didn’t know how far back this story went. In an interview for the New York Times, art historian Erin L. Thompson mentioned that there are statues of Assyrian kings with curses carved on them (“He who knocks down my statue, let him be in pain for the rest of his life”) and that date from 2700 B.C. Thompson’s career, according to the newspaper, has been spent on thinking what it means when people deliberately destroy icons of cultural heritage. Placing a statue in the public space is a political decision, a public statement, an attempt to solidify a society’s acknowledgement of a person’s values, character and contribution to society. The public space is a place of political affirmation; but also of contestation. These public affirmations of an official version of history are not necessarily immortal and do not necessarily make sense for ever.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

From silence to a hashtag to taking a stand



The news that the director of the Toledo Museum of Art, Alan Levine, wished to “reemphasize” at this point that the museum does not have a political stand sounded odd and anachronic to me. Not only because I joined a long time ago the group of culture professionals who advocate that culture is not neutral or apolitical, but mainly because in the US context, and elsewhere, things have effectively taken a different turn.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Competition for museum directors: a big step forward

Image taken from We Are Museums
As this is a matter of international interest, here's the translation of my article today in the Portuguese newspaper Público.