Infinity of Nations: Tackling Cultural Representation in Museums

Review

of an Exhibition

by Meera Jagroop

Published on April 18, 2014, Modified on November 04, 2014

  • Description:

    Infinity of Nations displays artifacts, tools, art, and clothing from different American Indian groups throughout North, Central, and South America. The museum’s display of the objects at first seems highly curated, but upon closer speculation the voice of the people becomes increasingly stronger as I traveled through the exhibit. While going through a cultural exhibit, I ask myself “Where is the voice of the people, and how is the museum honoring that?”

    As I move through the exhibit, I felt as though the museum curators used those exact questions as the main guide for their exhibit design. The room is filled with quotes from different American Indian groups and organizations, historical and recent photographs, traditional stories paired with each object and a subtle, but effective use of videos. I can truly hear, and quite literally see, the faces of American Indians that own many of the objects. Each object was displayed with a label that described not only the name of the object, but also how the object was used which further emphasizes the importance of the objects past their aesthetic value. The video screens were positioned around the exhibit and paired with larger objects. The videos allow the visitor to see a 360 degree view of the object and meet the individual who the object belongs too. In most of videos, these individuals are telling the object’s story. This exhibit becomes more accessible through the multiple approaches they take to tell these stories, including visual text, images, video, and audio. Through their choice of language, the museum is tackling controversial issues in the way we teach history and minimizes interpreted information. The voices are heard from a variety of different cultures within a larger culture’s perspective. For example, in the Caribbean portion of the exhibit, the text criminalized European explorers and links them with “devastating effects of contact.” I am curious to see how this museum uses their ideas in school and public programming since during my time as a student, my textbooks did not teach history through the lense of other cultures but instead an American view. While the objects alone might not bring up these conversations on their own, the additional text, videos, quotes can evoke empathy in the visitors. Although there are no interactive activities or touch objects in the exhibit, the museum offers other alternatives for children, including trading cards, scavenger hunts and storytelling programs throughout the museum exhibits. Objects are no longer just objects, but these objects have names, stories, and faces – and many of the people are still alive today. This exhibit includes objects from hundreds of years ago and others from my lifetime – creating an atmosphere that many American Indian displays are missing. This is not a culture that is lost or gone, and this exhibit displays beautifully.
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