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Posts from the ‘Museum Anthropology’ Category

Daniel C. Swan, Museum Leader

Below find the ninth in a series of posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Here I take a turn reflecting on an an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Daniel C. Swan, Museum Leader

by Jason Baird Jackson

Earlier posts in this series in celebration of Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the Sam Noble Museum, and from the University of Oklahoma where it is based, have emphasized mentoring. To impact a more junior colleague positively and to help launch them, or to advance them, in their career is particularly noble work. Since we met one another in the spring of 1994, Dan has been an extraordinary mentor to me and an energetic advocate for me and my work. My career has followed the particular—and wonderful—pathways that it has because of Dan’s deep influence on me and on my lifecourse. This observation could easily be the stepping off point for an essay on Dan’s outsized role as a mentor and supporter to me and to many others. I would love to write that essay.

For others, as for myself, a key part of Dan’s influence as a mentor relates to his providing an observable, emulatable model for collaborations that link communities and cultural organizations for work that addresses the needs or goals of the partner community and that serves society more broadly, while also advancing collaborative scholarly research. While Dan’s involvement in a wide range of such projects in Indian Country are perhaps best known, he has been involved in partnerships and initiatives connecting to, and serving, a still wider range of constituencies and communities. This was true, for instance, in his work as a curator in a an extremely diverse city, while at the Science Museum of Minnesota and I saw it first hand in his work as Senior Curator at the Gilcrease Museum.

In 1999, for instance, we worked together to raise funds for an “Oklahoma African American Folk Arts Survey” aimed at addressing the Gilcrease Museum’s historic neglect of African American cultural life in the state and in the Americas. We brought the Smithsonian exhibition Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas to the Gilcrease the following year for the same reason. At a much larger scale, one of his most ambitious and far reaching Gilcrease projects was the major permanent exhibition Las Artes de Mexico. Opened in 1996 and co-curated with Kevin Smith, that project shook things up for Gilcrease and leavened an excellent but little-known collection of Mexican art and documents with contemporary collections and contemporary voices—including Indigenous ones. It was perhaps the first time that a major Gilcrease Museum exhibition was informed by new, project-based ethnographic field research. It was also innovative not just for the museum but for the field in the way that it snuck in a wide range of then emerging best practices and subverted, in a fruitful and innovative way, the then-standard conventions of art-museum-based exhibition presentation and planning. Even the staid Tulsa World captured the sense of what I am getting at here in this June 9, 1996 report by arts reporter James D. Watts, Jr.

I could keep reflecting on Dan’s exhibition projects in this way. Symbols of Faith and Belief: The Art of the Native American Church (a partnered project of the Native American Church of Oklahoma and the Gilcrease Museum), A Gathering of Traditions: A Centennial Celebration of Dr. Charles Marius Barbeau in Oklahoma (a partnership of the Wyandotte Nation, the Seneca-Cayuga Nation, and the Sam Noble Museum) and A Giving Heritage: Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community  (a partnered project of the Sam Noble Museum and the Osage Nation Museum) in particular deserve detailed discussion. I hope to write, or to help someone write, that essay. Dan has been involved in a huge number and range of exhibitions and an even larger number of public-facing and community facing programs. These are not well-enough known.

Mentoring. Museum collaboration. Exhibitions. Dan’s accomplishments in these areas warrant extensive discussion. So too with his own research and writing. If you have not read Peyote Religious Art: Symbols of Faith and Belief (University Press of Mississippi, 1999) or Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community (co-authored with Jim Cooley) (Indiana University Press, 2019) yet, I really urge you to do so. On the article side, my favorites include “Early Osage Peyotism” (Plains Anthropologist, 1998), “The North American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea (Wild.) Pers.) – Sacred Food of the Osage (Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 2010), and (with Michael Paul Jordan) “Contingent Collaborations: Patterns of Reciprocity in Museum–Community Partnerships” (Journal of Folklore Research, 2015). It is hard to fathom how Dan found time for so much writing when his administrative, curatorial, teaching, and collaboration duties were so extensive across so many years. His larger oeuvre is remarkable and really warrants separate discussion. I hope to help with that and with helping surface the ways that all of these activities intersected with his teaching work at the universities of Tulsa, Memphis, and Oklahoma.

­­I am cheating by evoking those other areas here in brief as I do not want them to go unmentioned in the series. But the focus of my thinking today is in museum leadership. Between 2013 and 2019, I served as Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (MMWC). Almost daily during those years, I thought about Dan and about all of the things that I learned from him about leading teams of colleagues within museums. I was really fortunate to have been hired by Dan to work as his understudy and assistant at the Gilcrease Museum during his tenure there as Senior Curator. Dan had begun his own museum career at the Oklahoma Historical Society’s main facility in Oklahoma City and then at the White Hair Memorial, an OHS state historic site and community learning center in the Osage Nation. Before returning to Oklahoma to work at Gilcrease Museum as Senior Cuator, Dan was Curator of Ethnology at the Science Museum of Minnesota. After Gilcrease he served as Director of the University of Memphis’ Chucalissa Museum and finally returned again to Oklahoma to follow me as the Sam Noble Museum’s Curator of Ethnology. Yesterday was his last day in that role and as the museum’s Interim Director. I write this reflection on his first day of retirement.

Museum leadership is often hard, especially in moments such as the current one. In each of his museum leadership roles, Dan made difficult choices with his eyes focused on how to advance the community-service mission of these museums. When I became Director at MMWC, I thought often about how I so regularly watched Dan turn bad news into good news and how he stayed positive and good humored even when this could not be done. There was almost always another day to try again. Every problem could be approached from a new angle. New friends, new funds, new relationships, new ways of organizing the team, new ways of organizing the day, new ways of organizing the collections, could almost always be found and, with them, new progress could eventually be made. The time that I spent at Gilcrease working with Dan and with our colleagues of that period was the most formative in my career. Despite all of the good things that have happened to me since, it remains my own personal golden age. I was shown how to do the work of a curator and given ever more expansive opportunities to do it. I had so much fun to work with Dan and with my other Gilcrease colleagues of that time.

But, I was also watching how the museum’s senior staff, its directors (there were several in a brief period) and especially how Dan, as Senior Curator, did their work. How did museum leaders interact with the board and with funders? Where did the funding come from? How did the leadership group work with the media? With city officials? How were staffing problems dealt with? Controversies? Mistakes? The usual physical plant crises? How did the museum present itself to its audiences and was it diversifying those? With respect to Dan in particular, how did he pull off major projects (the Thomas Moran exhibition, for instance) that went beyond the skills and experiences that the museum’s staff already had? How did he help the teams that he led innovate? I learned so much from watching him and from being involved in the group work that he led the Gilcrease Museum’s curatorial, registration, education, conservation, and programs staff in.

There are many lessons, but one that I thought about most often in my own directorship was the balance that a museum leader has to try to strike between firmness and flexibility, seriousness and fun, expectations (of growth, of productivity, of commitment, of progress) and acceptance (of personality differences, of relative skills, of career investment, of hard realities). In striking this balance, Dan always displayed an equanimity that I never came close to. With the staff, he knew just when the best course of action was to lighten the mood with appropriate humor. Inversely, he knew when frank words were necessary and how to convey them constructively. From my perspective, he knew just when he needed to roll up his own sleeves and join in the physical work of lifting a crate or painting a wall and when he needed to straighten his tie and leave such work to those for whom it was an assigned duty. I wish I had words adequate to describe what I am getting at, but the key thing is that Dan was a model museum leader not just in the sense that he was an excellent one, but in the sense that he literally provided the model by which I and others learned how to also be museum leaders ourselves through his example and influence.

While my time as a museum director is concluded, for now at least, I still use the lessons that I gained form Dan daily. They appear in my courses about museums and curatorship, certainly. They appear in my own mentoring of students and colleagues. But they also permeate my day-to-day work. At present, I am returning to my own research and my own collaborations. In doing so, I am trying to build a new team of collaborators and to revitalize relationships with partners for a post-MMWC period. I am trying to keep existing efforts going while looking ahead to new ones. Doing just this is fundamental to the work that I have watched Dan do for all of the twenty-six years that I have known him.

I am thrilled at the prospect of Dan having, at last, the freedom to take up his projects and pursue his collaborations out of pure interest and commitment without the burden of having to feed a museum’s insatiable demand for new exhibitions, new grants, new reports, new budgets, new donations, and all of the rest.

Dan—thank you for all that you have given and all that you have done. Congratulations!

NAL15_OsageWeddingFlier_Color

During the Osage Weddings Project, which led to the exhibition “A Giving Heritage: Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” and to the book Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community, project participants, including Dan Swan, held consultative events in the Osage community, such as this discussion in May 2015 at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center in Pawhuska.

Lessons of Accountability

Below find the second of a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is heather ahtone, senior curator at the First Americans Museum. She served previously as James T. Bialac Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Lessons of Accountability

by heather ahtone

As a young professional in 2012, Dan Swan was one of the first in the museum community who helped me feel like a professional. That may seem redundant, how does one not feel like a professional if one is? But I think that for many Native folks coming into the museum field, like myself, it is common to feel like an imposter. I came to my professional field as a matter of accidents and curiosity, with few mentors in the actual field. I didn’t have a cadre of Native folks to help me navigate the museum field’s history of colonialism, authoritarianism, and dismissal of Indigenous agency. Stepping into an institution as the only Person of Color at a level with some capacity for bringing an Indigenous presence into the conversation, I felt a significant amount of pressure. Those pressures were purely internally driven. I could have gone with the flow. But it was clear to me that I had a level of accountability. It would never be imposed by the institution but would always be present for me as a lone representative as I assumed responsibilities curating the collections representing all the brown folks (my position was as curator of Native American and Non-Western arts).

The first part of the lesson of accountability Dan taught was mutual respect. It was a hard lesson emotionally. I wanted to earn a doctoral degree and needed a committee member. I asked Dan to join my committee. He declined. In the most Dan-like way, he declined by expressing that as a respected colleague it was inappropriate for him to be in a position of power over my scholarly work. I can only say that I was broken-hearted by his decision. But I was humbled by his acknowledgment of me as an equal (of sorts – he will always be someone I look up to!). His expression of respect gave me a courage that became a driving force in my work. It made me see that I also had responsibilities as an equal to him–not as a measure of myself, but as a measure of all the goodness he has done for our Native community. That courage was needed to serve the Native folks who were not standing in those meeting rooms, sitting at the table, and having a voice (quivering as I often felt). His respect held me up on many days.

The second part of the lesson of accountability was service. As I assumed the responsibilities and provided leadership in my curatorial position, I pushed myself and the institution to meet the accountability I felt on behalf of the Indigenous community. This appeared to me as service, until the museum field response became an unquenchable demand for more. More work. More writing. More of my voice to fill the silence of Indigenous invisibility. And this was how I learned about my real service to the field. I witnessed Dan creating opportunities for his students, for his peers, and for me. I realized that my true service to the field would not come from the “doing.” Service would come from putting others forward and nurturing a broad voice from the community, not just my voice. He taught by example that the work could never be for myself, but always to serve the community. He wasn’t the only one teaching me this point, I have to acknowledge that I needed two teachers for this particular lesson, Dr. Gregory Cajete was the other. Between the two, I found that truly serving the community was found in nurturing a broader body of servants to our Native community.

The final part of the lesson of accountability was in speaking the truth. Dan has been a champion for my projects for a long while. During one project, fairly early in my curating path, Dan used my work as a teaching tool for his students. He was openly proud of the project, and I appreciated that. It was during a class visit with his students after visiting the exhibition that we discussed openly the successes and failures of the project. The successes were fairly public and I had more practice speaking to these. In conversation in front of his students, Dan asked questions about the failures. This was a challenge to me in the moment. I had less practice speaking to my failures openly. I’m not sure if I spoke the whole truth in that moment, I am sure I was incredibly uncomfortable. But the discomfort with the questions exposed to me that this was where the real learning rests. That when we can honestly assess our failures, we lay a path to confront them and genuinely improve our practice. I have since incorporated my failures with my successes as a part of my public speaking practice. The response to the failures has never ceased to be one of people embracing that truth as “refreshing” and as a moment of strength. My grandmother’s lessons on honesty laid a foundation that Dan’s lesson on truth have fortified.

With all that said, I have learned so many more lessons from Dan. I will always be grateful for his kindness, generosity, and support. He has never let me take the easy path. Our conversations are a source of personal joy and intellectual growth. I believe I will be learning from him for years to come. And if I have listened to what he taught well, I will be able to pass those lessons along to another generation for even more.

God bless you, friend, enjoy all the beauty that the world has to offer.

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An in-process photograph of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. FAM is slated to open in Spring 2021. FAM press photograph via https://www.indianz.com/News/2018/03/19/american-indian-cultural-center-and-muse.asp

 

 

 

Cracking the Vault: A Celebration of Daniel Swan

Below find the first of a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. First to reflect on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Jessica W. Blanchard. Jessica is a Research Scientist at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Applied Social Research. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Cracking the Vault: A Celebration of Daniel Swan

By Jessica W. Blanchard

Reflecting on the years I have known Dr. Daniel Swan brings to mind so many wonderful stories. Dan joined as a member of my doctoral committee just as I was rounding third base of the dissertation, and so it was really during the years following the completion of my degree that I came to enjoy Dan as a friend, a colleague, and of course, a ceaseless mentor. He has imparted years of stories and lessons from the field–and from life–and yet, I am unable to share most of these with you here. For you see, any really good story by, or about Dan Swan, inevitably begins and ends with the shared reassurance, “This stays in the vault.” I remember the first time I heard about said “vault” and wondered what in the world kinds of secrets of the academy I was about to learn. I listened with eager anticipation, feeling sure that I was about to be privy to something none of my peers yet knew. As it turns out, for those peers who never had a mentor like Dan Swan, I was indeed privy to a piece of the academy that made it bearable, possible, and simply better.

I entered graduate school, as many do, with a fair dose of naïve optimism and self-centered drive, and was fortunate early to have the mentorship of Dr. Jason Jackson to nurture and guide my focus away from priorities of self toward priorities of communities. His departure to a new institution left a giant hole in my committee and left me wondering how to navigate out of this tunnel known as the dissertation. Enter: Dan Swan. Upon Jason’s recommendation, I asked Dan to join my committee. Right away, Dan asked to read my work. Right away, Dan set up a lunch appointment and gave me feedback. I am not sure if he knows how much it meant to have him jump on board right away. He invested time in understanding the communities with whom I worked so that his feedback was informed and meaningful. He joined me on trips to the field, made all the better by his willingness to indulge in local all-you-can-eat catfish diners. He listened to my stories about the tiniest of Oklahoma towns, and was happy to venture there to meet the community members with whom I had grown close over the years. I watched as he did the same for other students, uplifting them any chance he got and mostly in ways that they were unaware. This, in no uncertain terms, is precisely the kind of support that makes academia bearable, possible, and simply better.

Dan’s advice to me during my time as a graduate student was decisive and clear: just do it. Get finished. Be confident in the hard work you have done. We eventually became departmental colleagues for a time, and Dan’s advice to me was again decisive and clear: worry less about those who do not deserve worry (summarizing here) and work on your face (verbatim). Apparently, I needed to learn how to express less with my face in professional situations. I still hear Dan’s voice saying “work on your face” at just the right times. I see now that Dan’s plain-spoken candor is simply part of what it means to “keep it in the vault.” The vault is simply a blueprint for how to build a circle of supportive colleagues and friends: be selective yet forgiving, invest in one another, support one another, learn from one another, defend each other when needed, hold each other accountable, and always celebrate the wins.

I referred earlier to the dissertation process as a tunnel. The thing about a tunnel is that there is always light on both sides of it. Navigating the tunnel is easier to do with encouragement and good guidance from those who have done it before. Dan helped me find the focus and grit–the tunnel vision, so to speak–I needed to get through it. Tunnel vision is a good thing when it means you are focused and productive, but it is also impossible to sustain and can limit what we can see around us. We eventually come out on the other side of the tunnel and we begin to understand that it was merely a place to gather new tools, perspective and purpose. Thank goodness for those who support our journey into the tunnel, those who cheer and pick us up as we navigate our way through, and most assuredly for those who celebrate as we emerge on the other side.

Today, I celebrate the career and mentorship of my friend, Dr. Daniel Swan. I celebrate his tireless devotion to students. I celebrate his achievements in building an approach to ethnography and curation grounded in community and relationships. I celebrate what is yet to come for him and his family! Dan, if you ever find yourself reflecting on the impact you may have had on others, let me crack the vault a bit to tell you that it was tremendous. Cheers to you!

Bank_of_the_West_Los_Altos_branch_vault

(Former) Bank of the West vault in downtown Los Altos, California via WikiMedia Commons (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

 

 

Sowei Mask Repairs in Focus: Material Interpretation and Object Itineraries (Lecture)

2020-05-14 Otto Lecture

Sowei Mask Repairs in Focus: Material Interpretation and Object Itineraries

A Material Culture Studies Lecture by Kristin Otto

Thursday May 14, 2020
2–3 p.m. (EST)

Email Jason Jackson at mchsl@indiana.edu to request Zoom details.

Following the emergence of repair as a topic of interest for material culture scholars, this talk examines the significance of repair for the “lives” / biographies / itineraries of ethnographic material culture in museum collections. Sowei masks (also known as Sande or Bundu masks) are among the most widely collected and easily recognizable objects from Africa in museum collections around the world. Repair proved to be a common experience for the masks as they circulated from performative contexts in West Africa into Western markets, collections, and institutions. Through in-depth case studies of five sowei masks in museum collections around the world, Otto examines how repair shapes the material and immaterial lives of the masks in new contexts and transactional spaces.

Kristin Otto is a Ph.D. candidate in Indiana University’s Department of Anthropology and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Her work as a museum anthropologist and curator focuses on how processes of making and repair impact our understandings of museum collections and material culture.

Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.

New Project Pages

Here on Shreds and Patches, there is a new menu item for Projects. The Projects landing page gives a quick overview of, and links to, some of key projects that I am involved in and the menu can also lead visitors directly to project pages. Right now there are project pages for the “Museum Ethnography in the Native South” project (2020-present) and two sub-projects of the larger “China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project” of the American Folklore Society and the China Folklore Society. These are the “Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies” (2017-present) and “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice” (2013-2016).

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Near Old Dali, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, China, May 2019.

Application Time: Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA)

It is time again for graduate students to consider applying to participate in the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA). Here are this year’s details, courtesy of the SIMA program leadership. (Quoting now.)

“The Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA) is a graduate student summer training program in museum research methods offered through the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History with major funding from the Cultural Anthropology Program of the National Science Foundation.

During four weeks of intensive training in seminars and hands-on workshops in the research collections, students are introduced to the scope of collections and their potential as data. Students become acquainted with strategies for navigating museum systems, learn to select methods to examine and analyze museum specimens, and consider a range of theoretical issues that collections-based research may address. In consultation with faculty, each student carries out preliminary data collection on a topic of their own choice and develops a prospectus for research to be implemented upon return to their home university. Instruction will be provided by Dr. Joshua A. Bell, Dr. Candace Greene and other Smithsonian scholars, plus a series of visiting faculty.

Who should apply?

Graduate students preparing for research careers in cultural anthropology who are interested in using museum collections as a data source. The program is not designed to serve students seeking careers in museum management. Students at both the masters and doctoral level will be considered for acceptance. Students in related interdisciplinary programs (Indigenous Studies, Folklore, etc.) are welcome to apply if the proposed project is anthropological in nature. All U.S. students are eligible for acceptance, even if studying abroad. International students can be considered only if they are enrolled in a university in the U.S. Members of Canadian First Nations are eligible under treaty agreements.

Costs: The program covers students’ tuition and shared housing in local furnished apartments. A stipend will be provided to assist with the cost of food and other local expenses. Participants are individually responsible for the cost of travel to and from Washington, DC.

SIMA dates for 2020: June 15 – July 10
Application deadline – March 1, 2020

For more information and to apply, please visit:https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/anthropology/programs/summer-institute-museum-anthropology

SIMA

#AFSAM19: Material Culture and Heritage Studies in Northern Guangxi, China

Notes on Basketry among the Dong People of Sanjiang County E

A title slide showing key project sites in the Dong areas of Guangxi and Guizhou.

Shreds and Patches has been quieter than usual as I work my way through a really complicated semester. In the midst of the jumble of unforeseen circumstances, there are some good things actually happening according to plan. One of these was the most recent in a series of panels at the American Folklore Society Annual Meetings reporting on the work of the museum partners in the China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project. Earlier this month, at the start of the 2019 meeting in Baltimore, members of our group, presented a panel on “Material Culture and Heritage Studies in Northern Guangxi, China: Ethnographic Reports from the China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project.” This is the panel abstract:

In a three-year phase of the China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, researchers from six museums have collaborated in a bi-national program of ethnographic research in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In this panel, project participants will report on the research, sometimes emphasizing textile practices such as embroidery and basketry, sometimes focusing on heritage issues, sometimes discussing the lessons of the collaboration. The presenters will share their findings in accessible ways but China specialists may wish to know that research has taken place among the Dong people of Sanjiang County and the Baiku Yao people living in Nandan County.

Carrie HERTZ (Museum of International Folk Art) presented on “The Fabric of Life: Baiku Yao Textiles in Huaili Village.”

Hertz - The Fabric of Life

A title slide related to the textile arts of the Baiku Yao people of Nandan County, Guangxi.

FAN Miaomiao (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi) presented in absentia on “Field Research on Dong Textiles in the Tongle Area of Sanjiang County.”

Micah J. LING (Indiana University) shared her paper “Mijiu and Mai Wup: Trilingual Fieldwork and an Indigo Dying Method.”

LIANG Ziaoyan (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), also presenting in absentia, shared her paper “Imagination and Enlargement: Daily Performance and Life History in Ethnographic Video.” Her paper focused on her experiences in our work in Sanjiang County.

C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum) presented a paper that he and I, with help from ZHANG Lijun (George Mason University), worked on together titled: “Notes on Basketry among the Dong People of Sanjiang County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.”

I (Jason Baird Jackson, Indiana University) presented a paper for which Lijun was co-author. It was about “Building a Museum Collection of Work Baskets in Northern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.” The paper focused on the collection of baskets assembled for the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

AFS2019 Jackson and Zhang C (Slides)

A slide evoking in basketry collected for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

The session concluded with a presentation of a film by Jon Kay (Indiana University) titled “A Rice Basket: Basketmaking in a Baiku Yao Community” It is now viewable online on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/QrD_-lrB9UY

This session, and one that preceded it in 2018, will be a springboard for more sustained writing by many project participants. We have learned much during our collaborative work in Guangxi. I thank many the local people in Nandan and Sanjiang Counties who have taught us and our hosts and partners at the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum, and the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi. Special thanks also go to The Henry Luce Foundation, the China Folklore Society, and the American Folklore Society for their support of the broader projects of which ours museum and material culture efforts are just a part.

 

 

 

“At Home and Abroad: Reflections on Collaborative Museum Ethnography at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures”

I am happy to note the publication of a paper in Museum Anthropology reporting on, and considering, the work of two collaborative projects of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures at Indiana University. This piece is: Jason Baird Jackson (2019) “At Home and Abroad: Reflections on Collaborative Museum Ethnography at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.” Museum Anthropology 42 (2): 62-70. https://doi.org/10.1111/muan.12210

Experiments in collaboration are at the heart of contemporary museum anthropology and museum folklore. If you are interested in issues of collaboration in museums of ethnography and world cultures, take note of the upcoming Council for Museum Anthropology (CMA) biannual meeting being held in Santa Fe, New Mexico on the theme of “Museums Different” (September 19-21, 2019). [I wish I could go!] Collaboration was also the theme of the recent conference that the MMWC co-hosted with its partners in Beijing. The program of that conference on “Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies” is available online on the American Folklore Society website (see Conference Seven here).

Jackson-2019-Museum_Anthropology

I usually work hard not to publish behind a paywall. There were CMA-suporting reasons that I did so in this case. Be in touch if I can be of help on that score.

The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies

The following is a report on The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies (第七届中美民俗学与非物质文化遗产论坛: 博物馆民俗与遗产研究的协作工作). The version of record appears on the website of the American Folklore Society. This version adds more images. You can find a copy of the conference program here. –Jason Baird Jackson (杰森. 拜尔德. 杰克逊)

During three beautiful spring days in Beijing, a group of Chinese and American scholars and cultural workers gathered to discuss practices of collaboration in folklore studies and intangible cultural heritage work, with a focus on collaborations between ethnographic museums and between such museums and other groups in society. Held on May 19-22, 2019, this was the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage, one of a long-running series of conferences organized cooperatively by the China Folklore Society (CFS) and the American Folklore Society (AFS), as part of a broader binational collaboration begun in 2007. These forums have explored various aspects of cultural heritage policy, practice, and theory, giving US and Chinese participants an opportunity to learn about the state of the field as pursued in the national context that is not their own (Lloyd 2017).

This Seventh Forum, focusing on Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies, was held at the Indiana University China Gateway office in Beijing. Meeting under the auspices of the CFS and the AFS, the conference’s program was organized by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi (Guangxi Museum of Nationalities), with extensive logistical and practical support provided by the two societies and the gateway office staff. Generous financial support was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs at Indiana University.

Delegates to the forum came from a diversity of American and Chinese museums and universities. Chinese institutions represented included the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum, Beijing Normal University, the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum, East China Normal University, Fudan University, the Guizhou Nationalities Museum, Minzu University of China, Shandong University, and the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. American institutions represented included the Michigan State University Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, Texas Tech University, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (Indiana University), History Miami, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (University of Oklahoma), and the American Folklore Society (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage held at the Indiana University Gateway Office in Beijing, May 19, 2019. Shu Caiqian (Guizhou Nationalities Museum), Zhang Yibing (Guizhou Nationalities Museum, Zhu Gang (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Li Mingjie (East China Normal University), Wang Wei (Shandong University), Jessica Anderson Turner (American Folklore Society), An Deming (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Luo Wenhong (Fudan University), Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum), Surna (Minzu University of China), Kristin Otto (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Felicia Katz-Harris (Museum of International Folk Art), Sarah Hatcher (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Yang Lihui (Beijing Normal University), Lu Chaoming (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Jason Baird Jackson (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Chen Xi (Sun Yet-sen University), Carrie Hertz (Museum of International Folk Art), Chao Gejin (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Wuerxiya (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Fan Miaomiao (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum), Yang Quanzhong (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), He Chun (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Michael Paul Jordan (Texas Tech University), Wu Dawei (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), Ou Bo (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Michael Knoll (History Miami), Lan Yuanyuan (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), Gong Shiyang (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Jon Kay (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Luo Yong (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Mai Xi (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Zhao Fei (Yunnan Nationalities Museum), Wang Yucheng (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi).

On the afternoon of May 19, the conference began with warm words of welcome from AFS Executive Director Jessica Turner and CFS Past President Chao Gajin (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), standing in for current CFS President Ye Tao (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) who was unable to attend (Figure 2). Also offering brief opening remarks on behalf of the program committee were Jason Baird Jackson (Mathers Museum of World Cultures) and Gong Shiyang (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi) (Figure 3). These remarks preceded the forum’s keynote address by C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum). Extending an earlier discussion of principles for museum collaboration (Dewhurt and MacDowell 2015), Dewhurt reflected on a range of museum collaborations in which he and the MSU Museum have participated. Among the collaborations that Dewhurst addressed were earlier phases of the AFS-CFS partnership, which has included two museum sub-projects (2013-2016; 2017-2019). The first of these encompassed the Fifth and Sixth forum events, the traveling exhibition and bilingual catalogue Quilts of Southwest China (MacDowell and Zhang 2015), and numerous other elements (Lloyd 2017). In this phase, three Chinese museums and three US museums partnered together (Dewhurst and Lloyd 2019). In the more recent phase, collaborators from the three U.S. museums have joined with the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi for a program of joint research focused on textiles and intangible cultural heritage policy in two northern counties of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Central to this new phase of work are the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum and the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum. Thus, while Dewhurst’s keynote was a general reflection on museum collaboration, his presentation also served to orient conferees to the specific joint AFS-CFS supported projects that gave the forum its organizational context.

The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion in which representatives from the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum and Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum described their work and the community and organizational collaborations in which they participate (Figure 4). American participants appreciated this opportunity to learn about the innovative work of these ecomuseums first-hand and drew comparisons to various kind of community-based museums in the US. While Chinese delegates were more knowledgeable about the form that ecomuseums take in China, they also appreciated the chance to engage with the ecomuseum leaders directly in a comparative scholarly context.

It was an honor that many Beijing-based leaders in the CFS and in Chinese folklore studies overall could attend these opening events, which also included a welcoming banquet generously hosted by the CFS. This gathering was enlivened further when the leaders of the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum introduced both Dong flute music and toasting songs to the group. For many American delegates, this was a memorable first experience with the richness of Chinese banquet customs and the beauty of Dong music (Figure 5).

The second day of the conference was a full day featuring presentations from Chinese and American delegates. In line with the goals of the forum, the presenters described specific museum collaboration projects, using them as the basis for broader reflections on the work of museum ethnography and heritage studies today. Translation for most conference presentations was very ably done by Chen Xi (Sun Yat-sen University) and Luo Wenhong (Fudan University) (Figure 6). A number of themes emerged through the juxtaposition of presentations throughout the conference. These included: (1) the nature of museum-based ethnographic and exhibition projects in urban contexts, (2) the dynamics unique to heritage-oriented fieldwork pursued across differences of language, culture, and institutional context, (3) the place of objects and material culture studies within museum collaborations, (4) the use of exhibitions as catalysts for broader collaborations and relationship building, (5) the value of older museum collections for contemporary communities and craftspeople, (6) the place of documentary video in museum ethnography, and (7) the special importance that attaches to national folk costume in diverse museum and local cultural contexts in the current era (Figure 7).

The conference’s third day featured a morning of additional presentations followed by a special outing in which conferees visited Beijing’s Shichahai historic area to learn about cultural preservation and heritage tourism activities centered there (Figures 8-9). Participants enjoyed a hutong tour and a visit to the Drum Towner of Beijing (Gulou). While she could not attend the forum, this outing was curated by Zhang Lijun (George Mason University) and drew upon her folklore research interpreting the narrative performances of hutong tour guides (Zhang 2016, 2019). The conference concluded with a banquet, hosted by AFS and featuring Yunnan cuisine. Highpoints of this concluding gathering were many individual expressions of friendship and goodwill as well as a vigorous singing competition staged between the binational groups gathered around two large banquet tables. Heartfelt singing in Dong, Yao, Mandarin, Mongolian and English brought the seventh forum to a joyful close.

References Cited

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, and Timothy Lloyd. 2019. “The American Folklore Society-China Folklore Society Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, 2013-2016.” Museum Anthropology Review 13 (1): 59-68. https://doi.org/10.14434/mar.v13i1.25405

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, and Marsha MacDowell. 2015. “Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Museum-Based International Collaborative Partnerships.” Practicing Anthropology 37 (3): 54–55. https://doi.org/10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.54

Lloyd, Tim. 2017 “The Inside Story of the AFS China-US Project.” https://www.afsnet.org/news/349609/The-Inside-Story-of-the-AFS-China-US-Project.htm, accessed June 12, 2019.

MacDowell, Marsha, and Lijun Zhang, eds. 2016. 中国西南拼布 | Quilts of Southwest China. Nanning: Guangxi Museum of Nationalities. [Distributed in the United States by Indiana University Press.]

Zhang, Lijun. 2016. “Performing Locality and Identity: Rickshaw Driver, Narratives, and Tourism.” Cambridge Journal of China Studies 11 (1): 88-104. https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/260292

Zhang, Lijun. 2019. “A Brief Guide to Shichahai.” Video Presentation Prepared for The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies, Beijing, China.

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Figure 2. Figure 2. Chao Gajin welcomes delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 3. Figure 3. Gong Shiyang addresses delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 4. Wu Dawei offers remarks on the work of the Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum during the ecomuseum panel discussion. Left to Right: Lu Chaoming, He Chun, Lan Yuanyuan, Yang Quanzhong, Wu Dawei, Luo Wenhong (translating), Jason Baird Jackson. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 5. Wu Dawei performs Dong flute music at the opening banquet. May 19, 2019. Photograph by C. Kurt Dewhurst.

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Figure 6. Zhang Yibing discusses the work of the Guizhou Nationalities Museum with Luo Wenhong providing English translation.. May 20, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 7. Carrie Hertz discusses research related to the exhibition Dressing with Purpose. May 20, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 8. Surna discusses her research on Mongol national dress. May 21, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 9. Lan Yuanyuan and He Chun begin a rickshaw tour of the Shichahai neighborhood in Beijing. May 21, 2019. Photography by Jason Baird Jackson.

Exhibitions Week: Echoes of the Rainforest: The Visual Arts of the Shipibo Indians

The MMWC has a huge amount of exhibition-related news. This week I devote a series of posts to highlighting some of these developments.

I sure wish I could have taken an anthropology course while in high school! Even better would have been an anthropology course that offered my classmates and I the chance to translate our studies into a public museum exhibition. Thankfully such a course is offered at the International School in Indianapolis, where a group of students have worked closely with faculty members Frédéric and Bernadette Allamel not only to develop their anthropological knowledge but to pursue specific studies of the culture and arts of the Shipibo people of the Peruvian Amazon. One culmination of these studies is the exhibition Echoes of the Rainforest: The Visual Arts of the Shipibo Indians. The exhibition opened to the public today (March 19, 2019) and will be on view at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures through December 22, 2019. The exhibition features ceramics, textiles and other remarkable objects and works of art reflective of Shipibo culture, history, and aesthetics. These works are contextualized with ethnographic photographs drawn from Bernadette and Frédéric’s fieldwork and a well-crafted exhibition script. The exhibition and the objects and images that it contains are visually stunning and the exhibition offers visitors a great deal of knowledge and insight.

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Echoes of the Rainforest: The Visual Arts of the Shipibo Indians on opening day.

I hope that everyone in Bloomington and Southern Indiana will come out for this exhibition. My quick iPhone images do not do the exhibition justice. It is a knock-out. Come see it and marvel at the work that this group of young museum anthropologists has accomplished.

Special thanks to Frédéric and Bernadette Allame and their wonderful students.

 

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