Drs. Angela Failler (University of Winnipeg) and Amber Dean (McMaster University) have recently published an article titled “‘An Amazing Gift’? Memory entrepreneurship, settler colonialism and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” in the academic journal Memory Studies.
This article considers the role of memory entrepreneurship in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’s historic launch and in a sampling of its content, social media posts, points of sale and marketing campaigns. Here is the abstract:
Drawing on research undertaken at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this article considers the role of memory entrepreneurship in the museum’s historic launch and in a sampling of its content, social media posts, points of sale and marketing campaigns. These examples are read in tension with Roger I. Simon’s conceptualization of ‘the terrible gift’ of what we come to know belatedly about events of mass violence, which calls into question the consolatory promises of learning from ‘those who came before us’ and the ‘lessons of their lives’. The museum’s involvement in the City of Winnipeg’s tourism initiatives and the revitalization of Winnipeg’s downtown are also considered, and we suggest that the museum’s participation in the creative economy might affect its tendency to situate human rights violations primarily in the past. Critiques of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’ present occupation of Indigenous land and the museum (and City of Winnipeg)’s ongoing reliance on natural resources extracted at the expense of Indigenous communities remain as difficult or inassimilable knowledge. Juxtaposing Indigenous, cultural and economic critiques with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’ advancement of memory entrepreneurship, our article explores the inter-implication of consumer culture, capitalism, settler colonialism and the museum’s ability to contribute to societal change. We conclude by turning to the activism of members of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, arguing that their calls for access to safe water and an all-season road in and out of their community pose both an economic and a political challenge to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and its brand of memory entrepreneurship by insisting that gestures to include and proffer representational forms of recognition to Indigenous peoples must simultaneously attend to sovereigntist calls for redistribution of land and resources in order to meaningfully address the historical and ongoing injustices of settler colonialism.
Thinking through the Museum team member Dr. Erica Lehrer’s recently co-curated exhibit, “Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust,” was reviewed by Adam Schorin in Forward. The review, titled “In a Kraków Basement, Awkward Objects of Genocide,” describes the exhibit as “extraordinary and unnerving.”
In lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from the review:
At the entrance to the temporary exhibition in Esterka’s House, a branch of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, there is a photograph of the collections storage of the Warsaw State Ethnographic Museum. The photograph shows rows of densely populated shelves: in the space of just a few cubic meters, hundreds of hand-carved figurines are consorting. There are peasants and priests, farmers and nuns, Adam and Eve and la pieta. And in the center of one row in the back, half-hidden by pastoral and religious scenes, is a triptych of the Holocaust: a soldier shoots a woman and her child, corpses are loaded into ovens, a group of Jews is led away by smiling policemen.
This is how we arrive at “Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust.”
While soaking up the sunshine, most of these tourists will also shop for the nation’s trademark rum, cigars and other souvenirs that will remind them of their Cuban experience for years to come. Undoubtedly, some of the Cuban curios they purchase will be gifted to friends and family members.
But if you are one of those millions bringing a souvenir home, think twice before filling your suitcase with mementos from the island…”
In response to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’s Canada 150 exhibitions, TTTM team leader Angela Failler has written an article in Citizenship Studies.
Here is the abstract:
This paper features an analysis of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) and its showcase for ‘Canada 150’, the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Particular attention is paid to how the Museum frames national memory, and its responsiveness (or lack thereof) to critiques and re-framings of Canada 150 by Indigenous artists, activists, historians and community leaders. Since opening to the public in 2014, the CMHR has had a mixed reception, including criticism for inadequately addressing Canada’s colonial past and present, privileging narratives of state benevolence and downplaying ‘missteps’ when it comes to Canada’s own human rights and Indigenous rights record. Recognizing that national museums have long served the colonial project of state formation and official memory, this paper nonetheless tries to notice potential openings for decolonizing or unsettling Canada 150 at the CMHR. Shoal Lake 40 First Nation’s Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations is taken up as a counter example.
50 free copies are available here (while copies last).
The Marsha Hanen Global Dialogue and Ethics Award at the University of Winnipeg was established in 2007 with a generous donation from former University of Winnipeg President Dr. Marsha Hanen, C.M. Dr. Hanen’s gift supports interdisciplinary research and dialogue. The Global Dialogue and Ethics Program promotes the open expression and dissemination of ideas and respectful discussion, by supporting U of W faculty-initiated research and providing an interdisciplinary forum for research and dialogue on topics that include an ethical dimension.
Winner of the 2014 Award, Dr. Angela Failler was asked to reflect on how the award supported her research projects, and specifically how it served as the foundation for a workshop she held called Caring for Difficult Knowledge: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Focus. This workshop then served as the foundation for the larger Thinking through the Museum project and its successful Partnership Development Grant application in 2015.
Check out the full feature on UWinnipeg’s website here.
Thinking through the Museum congratulates team member Heather Igloliorte for her recent Art Journal Award! This Award, given based on Igloliorte’s article ““Curating Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: Inuit Knowledge in the Qallunaat Art Museum,” in the Summer 2017 issue of Art Journal, was given out as a part of the College Art Association’s (CAA) Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in February 2018.
In response to the exhibition #Heritage at the National Museum in Kraków, Poland, Dr. Erica Lehrer has published a long-form review titled “Making #Heritage Great Again.” The review reads the show critically as the newest volley in a national culture war in the context of Poland’s recent hard rightward turn.
(photo credit: Erica Lehrer)
The review is free to read in the online journal Political Critique, the international arm of Central and Eastern Europe’s largest liberal network of institutions and activists.
Here is a short excerpt:
“The #Heritage (#Dziedzictwo) exhibition at Krakow’s National Museum is imposing, grand, and low-tech. It is an old-school, collection-based exhibition that exemplifies a traditional form of museological deceit, where profoundly political work is disguised as objectivity and benevolent custodianship. But #Heritage is novel because it co-opts not only the seeming neutrality of the original museum-as-treasure-box, but also the trappings of more recent, democratic approaches to curating, all while neutralizing true civic debate.”
Dr. Angela Failler has received a Joh R. Evans Leader’s Fund grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) with contributions from Research Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg to establish a new Centre for Research in Cultural Studies (CRiCS) on the UWinnipeg campus. CRiCS will house the innovative projects of Failler (who is Canada Research Chair in Culture and Public Memory), and the work of UWinnipeg’s Cultural Studies Research Group which she currently leads.
Failler’s overall program is designed to demonstrate the ways public memory and cultural studies research can generate positive social transformation. The main feature of the centre will be a Collaborative Research and Knowledge Mobilization Lab that functions as a multipurpose hub for research creation, networking, and workshopping. This Centre will also be a hub of activity toward Failler’s work with the Thinking through the Museum research team and its projects.
For more information, please see the press release on the University of Winnipeg’s website here.
On June 27, 2017, Dr. Erica Lehrer will participate in an action to “hack” the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. As a supervisor to students leading the project, Dr. Lehrer and the group will use a rattle to lead visitors through the course of the museum hack. It will be passed from hand to hand to make noise – a aural symbol of their “intervention.” Rattles are instruments present in many cultures, a ritual noisemaker used in ceremonies. People often forget that in multicultural villages objects were often passed from one community to another, crossing cultural boundaries and blurring them in the process. Christians used rattles during Holy Week, and Jews used them on Purim (a grager in Yiddish). They plan to use the rattle to symbolize openness to diversity, to work against fantasies of cultural purity, and to recall Poland’s multicultural community.
The project uses the museum as a space of reflection about the contemporary identity (or identities) of those people whose origins lie in the Polish countryside. If this is a “museum about me,” can I find my roots here? Can you? What might be missing in this museum? Or what prevents us from feeling a connection between who we are, and the people and culture on display?
More information about the action and project can be found on facebook and on the museum’s website.