Museum Queeries Project Organizes Inaugural Workshop

Ryan Rice delivers a keynote lecture at the Museum Queeries workshop

Ryan Rice delivers a keynote lecture at the Museum Queeries workshop (photo credit: Lauren Bosc)

June 2-4, 2017 –– The Museum Queeries project launched this summer with a workshop on “Museum Queeries and Curatorial Dreaming,” hosted at UWinnipeg and coinciding with Winnipeg’s Pride Week. Organized by Dr. Heather Milne and Dr. Angela Failler, it was facilitated by Dr. Shelley Ruth Butler (McGill) and provided an opportunity for members of our Museum Queeries research network to connect in person for the first time as we hail from across Canada, the United States, and Australia. The overall goal of the proposed workshop was to connect members of our newly formed Museum Queeries research network, and translate specific objectives into tangible strategies for engaging museums on 2S+LGBTTQ issues.The following key questions framed this work:

*How are museums implicated in the ongoing struggle for 2S+LGBTTQ rights?
*How have 2S+LGBTTQ issues been integrated within the curatorial and programming mandates of museums?
*What kinds of alliances might be formed at the nexus of queer and indigenous/decolonial activism in relation to museums?
*What kinds of productive exchanges might occur at the intersection of queer and antiracist activism in the context of museums?
*How might we, as academics, activists, curators, artists, community stakeholders, and students, work collaboratively with museums to (re)conceive of them as queer spaces?

The workshop included a field trip to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) for one of its “Pride Tours,” a site visit to the Winnipeg Pride festival grounds located next to the CMHR, as well as a curatorial dreaming exercise led by Dr. Butler to attempt to reimagine queer content in the context of the CMHR. The intent was thus not simply to critique museums, but rather to engage and potentially collaborate with them by proposing ways in which they might more effectively address 2S+LGBTTQ issues.

The workshop was funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Research Manitoba, and the University of Winnipeg.

For more information on the Museum Queeries project, visit museumqueeries.org.

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Review: The Idea of a Human Rights Museum

busby coverMarjorie Schwarzer has recently published a positive review of Karen Busby, Adam Muller, and Andrew Woolford’s The Idea of a Human Rights Museum, which includes a chapter co-written by Thinking through the Museum‘s Project Director Angela Failler with the late Roger I. Simon. The review, published in Museum Management and Curatorship, can be accessed here.

In lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from the review:

A museum might facilitate dialogue, but can it be an appropriate place to inspire action on behalf of human rights? This book’s answer is inconclusive. Christopher Powell delineates what he sees as the hard truth: the fight for human rights is a continual struggle. He posits that CMHR’s narrative is ‘top down’, reflecting ‘the interests of the sovereign and … social elites’ who founded and funded it (p. 138). ‘Top down’ implies that abuses against humanity are aber- rant occurrences that can be transcended through enlightened institutions. Powell advocates a ‘bottom up’ approach that emphasizes a commitment to constant questioning and subversion of the larger system. Perhaps, Powell notes on page 141, an ongoing external critique of CMHR, such as the one presented in this valuable book, can allow the museum to become ‘a vehicle for the propagation of human rights, despite itself’.

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Dr. Erica Lehrer awarded Insight Grant

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (photo credit: W. Kryński)

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (photo credit: W. Kryński)

Canadian Museum for Human Rights (photo credit: CMHR - MCDP flickr)

Canadian Museum for Human Rights (photo credit: CMHR – MCDP flickr)

Dr. Erica Lehrer has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant valued at $133,268 for a 4-year comparative project focusing on Poland and Canada entitled “Difficult Heritage in National Museums.” As Lehrer describes the project:

Major museums worldwide are increasingly billed as sites of human rights and democratic spaces of introspection and critical thinking. But given museums’ origins as organs of the state, questions simultaneously arise regarding how museums can best do the difficult work of opening public discussions around painful, contested histories that may implicate the very nations they represent. The proposed project probes the ability of two major new national museums in Canada and Poland, countries that have both recently begun grappling with their difficult histories in public, to meet their own stated mandates for social justice. It does so by seeking creative ways to operationalize postcolonial discourses of “critical museology” filtering into establishment museums by new cohorts of activist curators.

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Dr. Failler speaks on “Eat Your Arts & Vegetables” (CKUW 95.9 FM Winnipeg)

Image of Dr. Failler at CKUW

Dr. Angela Failler at CKUW (photo credit: Eat Your Arts & Vegetables)

On December 3, 2015, research team member Dr. Angela Failler spoke with radio hosts Aleem Khan and Derek Brueckner on Eat Your Arts & Vegetables. This show, which broadcasts from the University of Winnipeg’s campus radio station, CKUW 95.9 FM, presents guests of diverse backgrounds and perspectives ranging from local self taught artists to internationally renowned interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary artists. The show’s mandate offers artists, curators, art academics, cultural workers and organizations a resource to promote their work and ideas in conjunction with current local art events.

Dr. Failler spoke about her research work over the past few years on the Canadian Museum for Human rights and working through “difficult knowledge” in relation to the Thinking through the Museum project.

Listen now to part one (interview begins at 2:30):

Continuing listening here (interview ends at 3:20):

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#thinkingthrough the Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket, detail. (image credit: Angela Failler)

Members of our research team visited the CMHR to view “The Witness Blanket” exhibit and hear the artist talk on January 20, 2016. Carey Newman (Ha-yalth-kingeme), a master wood carver of British, Kwagiulth, and Salish ancestry from Vancouver Island, is touring his work across Canada over the next 7 years. The piece includes objects collected from Indian Residential Schools, survivors, and family members in Canada from coast-to-coast-to-coast. For more on the exhibit visit http://witnessblanket.ca/

Listening to the artist speak to the layers of story and memory in his piece brought The Witness Blanket to life. His description of the emotional labour that went into working with and through the objects was as powerful and moving as the piece itself. Learning from difficult knowledge requires more than collecting information about the past. Lauren Bosc

The Witness Blanket IOS Mobile App is one of the most effective digital extensions of an exhibit I have encountered. It brings home the depth of the collection, making its objects accessible beyond the museum itself. It also raises the question of how difficult knowledge might be mediated through exhibition design. Angela Failler

To me, the braids of hair near the center of the blanket represent the notion of losing connection to culture. This detail illustrates the robbed childhood of a (First) Nation and a legacy of abuse many Canadians have yet to come to terms with. Anna Huard

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Review of “Caring for Difficult Knowledge”

Special Issue Cover

Special Issue Cover

Last year, research team member Angela Failler co-edited a special double issue of The Review of Education Pedagogy and Cultural Studies titled “Caring for Difficult Knowledge: Prospects for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” The issue, which featured a Foreword written by team member Erica Lehrer, was officially launched in November 2015.

Since the launch, Michael Dudley has written a generative review of the issue on his blog, The Decolonized Librarian. See “The Dialectic of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.”

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“Thinking through the Canadian Museum for Human Rights”

CMHR "Garden of Contemplation"

The CMHR’s “Garden of Contemplation.” “The First Nations sacred relationship to water is honored, as a place of healing and solace amidst reflections of earth and sky” (www.predock.com/CMHR/CMHR.html). Photograph: Erica Lehrer.

Dr. Erica Lehrer has published an unflinching and generative review of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in volume 67, issue 4 of American Quarterly, titled” Thinking through the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.”

To access the full article, click here. Here is a brief excerpt of the content.

“‘This ice you’re standing on, this is what you’ll be drinking down in Winnipeg next spring. For you, this is life. For people here, it can be death.’ I am shivering along with a dozen Winnipeg-based academics and students listening to Cuyler Cotton, a policy analyst and media relations specialist, in the community of Shoal Lake No. 40 on a mid-January day, looking out across the frozen lake that separates the local band of Ojibway First Nations, inhabitants of Shoal Lake, from access to the nearest highway. One hundred years ago the Canadian government sold this portion of First Nation terrain to the city of Winnipeg to build an aqueduct to supply the urban residents with clean water. As collateral damage, the Shoal Lake No. 40 peninsula was sliced into an island. This intrusion into the landscape left the local people to drink boiled or bottled water and traverse the lake by boat or winter road—treacherous in late fall and early spring with the insufficiently frozen surface—and living amid their own trash and sewage, which leaches into their water supply. Continue reading

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Winnipeg Exhibit Site Visits

In recognition of the recent release of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Cultural Studies Research Group (CSRG), led by Dr. Angela Failler, is visiting a number of Winnipeg exhibitions related to truth and reconciliation. On November 27, 2015, the CSRG visited the “We Were So Far Away: The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools” exhibit presented by the Manitoba Inuit Association and the United Way. This visit was followed by a brief tour of the “Forgotten: The Métis Residential School Experience” exhibit presented by Aboriginal Student Support & Community Relations (Red River College) on December 4.

In the new year, the CSRG plans to visit the Mikinak-Keya Spirit Tour at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (led by research assistant Sylvia Dreaver [Dueck]), the “We Are on Treaty Land” exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), the TRC Exhibit and the Witness Blanket exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as well as tour the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

As a part of these site visits, our group also uses Museum Ethnography Prompt Sheets to provide an open-ended structure to our visits.

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Journal Special Issue Launch

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UWinnipeg and UManitoba Contributors. L to R: Larissa Wodtke, Peter Ives, Mavis Reimer, Hee-Jung Serenity Joo, Karen Sharma, Angela Failler, Michael Dudley, Serena Keshavjee, Kate Ready, Heather Milne

Special Issue Launch Poster

Launch Poster

The official launch of the special double issue of the Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, titled Caring for Difficult Knowledge: Prospects for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, co- edited by Angela Failler, Peter Ives, and Heather Milne and featuring contributions from 9 members of the University of Winnipeg community [with a foreword by Erica Lehrer (Concordia)] was held on November 4, 2015. The event included a panel discussion by the editors with guests Mavis Reimer (Dean of Graduate Studies) and Michael Dudley (University of Winnipeg Library), as well as opening comments by Dr. Annette Trimbee, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg.
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“Curatorial Practice and Learning from Difficult Knowledge”

The Idea of a Human Rights Museum Book Cover

The Idea of a Human Rights Museum Book Cover (2015)

Dr. Angela Failler has published a co-written chapter with the late Roger I. Simon in the new volume The Idea of a Human Rights Museum edited by Karen Busby, Adam Mueller and Andrew Woolford (University of Manitoba Press 2015). The chapter, “Curatorial Practice and Learning from Difficult Knowledge,” opens with a dedication in memory of Simon:

I, Angela Failler, have developed this chapter from a proposed abstract, recent conference papers and other writings by Roger I. Simon, who was Professor Emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto. Roger died on September 17, 2012 before he could carry out a draft of the chapter himself. He entrusted these materials to me with the hope that his ideas would yet contribute to meaningful conversation on the prospect of a human rights museum. Undoubtedly, they already do. Roger was an eminent scholar whose provocative inquiries into ethics, pedagogy, remembrance and social justice have influenced educators, curators, artists and cultural critics alike, those committed to thinking through the difficulties of bearing witness to violent pasts in the present. To be sure, his legacy has touched other contributors to and readers of this book.”

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