I really enjoyed the “Mining the Museum” exhibition and like Sophie, it reminded me of the History Truck and the exhibits that Erin created. (Was this the artist that she mentioned being inspired by?) I loved the thoughtful juxtaposition utilized throughout and the mixed media (period chairs, paintings, shackles, busts) which resulted in a rich, stunning exhibition. I wish there had been pictures of the eventual exhibit on Mary Richardson Walker, because I am curious as to how they decided to organize it and how the text they probably created framed her story. I am really interested if they mentioned that certain parts of her diary were not to be read by anyone save a close friend or relative.
I am not very surprised by the negative comments surrounding Fred Wilson’s exhibit considering the lack of public education about slavery. In Exploring History today we talked about American memory surrounding slavery. In the articles we read there was a general consensus that public schools generally don’t teach slavery in a critical way and that very few Americans have an accurate view of the scope or horrific nature of it. With this in mind, I think that Wilson’s exhibit did a wonderful job of confronting these preconceived notions in a powerful way by using artifacts and objects from the period. The questions posted in the elevator were appropriate for all viewers regardless of background and served as a good general guidelines honestly applicable to engaging critically with museum exhibits. From the point of the individual viewer contextualizing and understanding how history is produced, I think the question “What were you taught about it?” a helpful question and maybe one that should be added. Encouraging visitors to specifically situate their reactions and experiences into their existing structures of understanding, I think is important and necessary when making historical interventions.
Yes–Wilson is the artist Erin mentioned as an influence, and it seemed like a great project to add to our syllabus. As the Maryland Historical Society blogged a few years back, “While most museum exhibits come and go, educating, enlightening, and perhaps entertaining patrons for the weeks, months, or years they are on display, few resonate as powerfully as Wilson’s landmark exhibit has. Twenty years later, Mining the Museum continues to be discussed and is remembered as a benchmark in the history of museum exhibits.” 20+ years!