Friday, 9 May 2014

PLC: Privilege and Role of Museums in Presenting Different Cultures, Socio-political and Accessible Exhibitions and Objects

May 5, 2014 Woodlands Cultural Centre, Brantford, ON

Peter Monahan (Museums of Mississauga)
The British Indian Army in WW1

2014 marks the centennial year of the beginning of the ‘Great
War’ or ‘World War One’. This exhibit recognizes one story
unknown to many Canadians, the part played by the British
Indian Army. At the time it was the largest volunteer army in
the world.

  • the British Indian Army served in France in the first year and a half of the war
  • consulted with the Sikh Heritage Organization of Canada, South Asian community members and York University professor
  • exhibition includes magazines, artefacts, memorial to army at Gallipoli
  •  idea suggested as part if the WW1 Centenary, why not do something about Indian army, influenced by part of Peter's OMA course work
  • 180 000 of Peel Region are of Southeast Asian descent, so there is good community connection to fulfill M of M mandate to promote the history of Mississauga
  •  this was also a good Canadian connection
  •  mobilizing the Empire, included Canadians and Newfoundlanders, of course
  •  photographs of soldiers from Streetsville (near Mississauga) boarding a train and Indian troops getting on ships to go to Mumbai (Bombay)
  •  also includes personal stories of Canadian Sikh soldiers who served with Mississauga Battalion, Mississauga Light Horse
  •  issue of how to describe Indian-Canadians?  “British Indian Army” was best way to describe these people, to not confuse Indian Military of today
  •  issue around race, Sri Lankans, Indians, Pakistanis and various other South Asian groups in the British Army, communities which were not differentiated at the time but should be today
  •  exhibition content focused on the factual and simplified information rather than opening possible difficult issues when the information might not be readily available
  • exhibition discusses new war technologies like gas warfare, length of war, issue of no home leave for imperial soldiers and distance from families, etc.
  • Indian soldiers were allowed to wear turbans rather than helmets, British Army was culturally sensitive at the time, food served to soldiers was culturally sensitive as well
  •  Infantry was recruited based on Victorian notions of race and culture, soldiers from the north were preferred because of their fighting skills and perceived “warrior culture,”
  • aftermath of war, wounds
  • Private Hari Singh: personal look at one of the Mississauga Battalion members who returned to Peel Region after the war
  •  Laal Singh, recruited from Ontario, died during the war but his tombstone has a Christian cross on it, problematic for Sikh soldiers


  •  conscious of Peter's background in how he is portraying this history -- Peter sought partners immediately to put this exhibition together
  • 90% of artefacts are borrowed
  • wanted to get personal stories to tie to Mississauga local history
  •  these kinds of exhibitions will bring new audiences, new insights and awareness of our community’s shared history (and unknown history!)
  •  could this be a travelling exhibition?!

Shannon Prince (Buxton Museum)
All of their educational programs are available on their website

The Elgin Settlement, also known as Buxton, was one of four organized black settlements to be developed in Canada.

The black population of Canada West and Chatham was already high due to the area's proximity to the United States. The land was purchased by the Elgin Association through the Presbyterian Synod for creating a settlement. The land lay 12 miles south of Chatham.

In case you didn’t know… Simcoe Day (August 1) holiday in Ontario, the holiday was renamed Simcoe Day in Toronto effective 1969 in honour of the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and the promulgator of the Act Against Slavery (the Scotiabank Caribbean Cultural Festival, formerly known as Caribana, is held this holiday weekend in Toronto, coinciding with Emancipation Day)

  •  Buxton is a community museum with small population, descendants of settlers from the Underground Railroad are majority of the community
  •  Buxton was the largest Black settlement in Canada West, totally Black owned and operated
  • Shannon is a descendant, the ability to share stories that are very personal and intriguing
  •  in the past, visitors had issue with interpretive staff being of white, Dutch background -- why do we have these problems? (she married into Buxton family so this was her history, too)
  • context and understanding of history is necessary – there was slavery in Canada and Canada was not welcoming to slaves
  •  who tells the story needs to be okay because story needs to be told and it’s all part of our shared history
  •  William King, a white Presbyterian minister who owned slaves was founder of Buxton – he believed slavery was wrong and Buxton is where he took his slaves so they could be free
  • 9000 acres was given to him, nobody wanted it
  • opened it to Underground Railroad slaves to settle and offered education and religion here as well
  •  important to note that people in area didn't like Blacks settling there
  •  King built a school, opened to everyone who wanted to come
  •  taught Classical education and a great school, turned minds of opposed settlers who ended up sending their children to the school which solidified the community
  • alumni of Buxton school include Anderson Abbott, Canada's first Black doctor, met Lincoln, surgeon in the Civil War, became Chatham's first coroner
  •  Buxton school has taught many – must remember that Blacks were not allowed to go to school in the south, and it was illegal to educate them as well, many went north to Buxton
  • Buxton still exists as a school, where the museum is (grades 1 to 10, 100 students taught at one time)
  •    teachers bring classes here now because they are uncomfortable teaching this history themselves
  • Tour activities
  •  have replica of slave ship at Buxton to get a good sense of history
  •  engaging in living history is great learning resource
  •  objects such as iron neck collars and objects that can be handled or worn for good lessons
  •  difficult task in how to talk to small children about slave history and the Underground Railroad, suggest a book Barefoot Underground to Freedom book
  •  games like Jeopardy for older kids to engage them in learning
  •  tackling this difficult history with education and entertainment
  •  role playing for older kids gets discussion going and problem solving scenarios to get young people to try to understand hardships
  •  allows teaching for schools that are afraid of teaching difficult history
  •  Buxton website has personal stories of past students at Buxton School over the past century, students will role play these students, researching them to prepare for visit, research allows visitors to imagine a future as well, since some became family members, married, etc. (link to cemetery there as well to find the students buried there)
  •  get about 40 classes per year at Buxton from Canada and the US (lots from Chicago)

Bev Dietrich and Dillon March (Museums of Guelph)
Coming Out | Queer History in Guelph

  • commemorate milestone, history of pride, social programs and timeline of political and social history of queer and out individuals in Canada
  •  positive feedback from press and community, museum visitors
  •  developing the idea -- Dillon approached Bev at Guelph Museums who were welcoming of the idea
  •  how the exhibition aligned with Guelph Pride and Civic Museum missions, was an easy process
  •  who was involved -- community members and organizations, Museum staff
  •  conducted interviews with LGBQ community and organizations, looked at newspaper records, articles, especially history of the University of Guelph LGBQ groups who formed in the 1960s, one of the first in Ontario and the Grand River Rainbow Historical Society
  •  information- based exhibition, not a lot of artefacts/objects
  •  Out on the Shelf Queer community in Guelph supplied a lot of resources and original articles
  •  Museum didn't have anything in their collection
  •  to make it more visually appealing (for lack of objects) Dillon used lots of colour, vibrant exhibition boards to make it engaging
  • reaction was very positive, lots of people came specifically to see the exhibition and  regular visitors to the museum loved the exhibition as well
  •  allowed for different community voices to be heard and benefitted both parties
  •  advice --  be open to suggestions for exhibitions, there are interesting stories to be told about your community
  •  ensure you have Board support for exhibitions
  •  Guelph Museums keen on celebrating anniversaries in the community
  •  proposals are taken to curatorial meetings for discussion and approval
  • reflections- - before this project, Dillon didn’t have much experience writing text for exhibits, but taking the time to work with him through the editing process was worth it.
  •  Symposium went along with the exhibition, programming is important to exhibition success
  • exhibition held near education area of the Museum
  •  exhibition also included books, lots of literature and information pamphlets
  •  participatory aspect for visitors to share a Guelph Pride memory on post it notes, no trouble, only positive notes left and will be kept in exhibition archive
  • Problematic Exhibition at Guelph: Falun Dafa exhibition
  • warning -- do not offer them an exhibition!
  • Chinese religion
  •   they rented programming space – not Museum-created/supported
  •  artworks were images which were gruesome because they are tortured and persecuted in China, problematic exhibition because it’s a public space, mostly for children’s programs
  •  covered up images during school programs
  •  Falun members were in the gallery during the day speaking to visitors but trying to get them to convert and sign petitions
  •  this exhibition actually pushed Museum to change policy- problem of Museum associated with the exhibition -- policy for how to use space had to change to avoid anything like this again
  •  must have risk management for exhibitions to avoid problematic groups
  • visitors’ privacy issues need to be taken into account

John Keeshig, Sandra and Art Lucs
Region of Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA)
“We Are Here: The Story of Aboriginal People in Peel Region: A Case Study in Inclusive Consultation”

  •  Sandra and Art from design company asked to develop an exhibition on Aboriginal history for Peel Region
  •  vision for the role of a museum to benefit the public and create a setting for the authentic voice
  • 2.5 year process, Peel Aboriginal Network was active in planning and consultation -- took on life of its own, became guided by the Aboriginal advisory committee which included members of the Haudenosaunee, Inuit, Metis and Anishinaabe communities
  •  intense active role, etiquette evolved, meetings began with smudging, ended with a prayer very much like aboriginal council meeting, properly paced, lots of time spent at meetings and always sought consensus
  •  not necessarily smooth running meetings, but consensus was always achieved
  •   offered tobacco and smudging to ancestors to join us
  •   talked until we reached the "good mind"
  •   tables are not used in lodges so everyone can be open – belief that tables, podiums hide the truth
  •  the term “aboriginal” seems to be the most inclusive and a goal was to not exclude  -- includes all Indigenous people
  •  exhibition decided to include section on genocide (residential school system as genocide) despite possible controversy
  •  never use the term "pre-history" as history has always been
  •  “pre-history” assumes a privileged view and assumes a written history not an oral history as is Aboriginal tradition
  •   Advisory Committee created core statement for then exhibition to guide their work – one which recognizes the uniqueness, diversity and identity linked to land as creation of Aboriginal people, recognized ancestors and families and to honour them (presence of ancestors is important)
  • ancestors gallery was included in the exhibition
  •  personal stories are included throughout the exhibition, John Keeshig’s is one of them
  •  Vision quests and animal guides you can choose with their meanings, use as a feedback forum to open discussion and give feedback at the end of the exhibition for audience participatory engagement
  • activity kits for school groups, want to be family friendly exhibition
  •   terminology was a major consideration for the exhibition, chose “Aboriginal” as an umbrella word and a word  most on the Advisory Committee could live with although not all agreed on it but did reach consensus
  • exhibition focuses on living history
  •  Peel Region is artificial geographical construct
  •  items are not referred to as “artefacts,” another problematic word which suggests Aboriginal objects are from a “dead culture”
  •  Peel Region is regarded as traditional territory of the Mississauga and New Credit
  •  Land claim settlement just signed, highlight of the exhibition working process and acknowledged in the exhibition
  •   talking thumb touch screens, original film footage created for the exhibition and designed to be viewed by many people at once
  • videos are candid, emotional and allows for face to face interaction with the viewer
  •  “a world in balance,” the term balance is used to discuss the role of the teaching lodge, John's poem is here
  •  the teaching lodge is a place of healing, part of the exhibition which follows the genocide sections
  •   enter the exhibition through the eastern doorway and exit through the west, like you would the teaching lodge
  •  John wondered why he was asked to come to the Advisory Committee
  •  who was going to tell the story? who's version gets told?
  •  where would we go if we wanted our story to be told? recognized problem of our grandparents, our elders who are leaving us and we need to reach back and find our words
  •  our history is not in books
  •  where would we go to learn our history and continue our story telling?
  •  history and storytelling traditionally happened in the winter in the teaching lodge
  •  we have to go to the lodge to learn from our elders, elders do not discriminate and always listen carefully, they will never talk badly and always have a gentle way
  •  the Creator taught us to be gentle
  •  dancing is mindful and remembers the first one who walked carefully
  •  structure of the teaching lodge could be a house, anywhere teaching and storytelling happens which tells us of our language, culture, and tradition
  •  path the creator gave us is East to West, and as we walk forest protects the pathway
  •  four races of man in the Creators image, how could he bring life into them, a voice came to him, “how can I help you?” which was the little shell speaking to the creator who used the little shell to blow life into the humans
  •  shell has two doorways, dome shaped like the lodge
  •  the Creator gives us nothing by mistake – all nature is planned and has meaning
  •  John carries the shell as a reminder of who we are and whose words are better than those who have come before us?
  •  life is a trail that we walk
  •  policies of residential school, attack our culture, language and history, the lodge will bring it back, we take ownership of it -- this is why I came to talk here, I was led to these people
  •  I was speaking for those who have left, have passed through the Western doorway
  •  true value of any gift is in the sharing of that gift and our history is the greatest gift to be shared
  •  exhibition opened a year ago, lots of attendance and programming
  •  Peel Aboriginal Network has a weekly drumming group and is now looking into exhibiting artwork and beadwork
  •  PAMA is successful with this exhibition, they weren't shy about presenting this difficult history as a way to accept history and move forward
  •  through our path in life we have obstacles, we have to see the real truth in what is placed in front of us but it is a gift and we must find the value of obstacles
  •  taking of our culture through residential schools ensures we'll never lose them again, taught us value of our culture


  • who does the interpretation? John does some presentations there and throughout the GTA
  • wanted to create a chronological path through the exhibition and incorporated the story of  the time when the Creator wanted to take humans away, the animal guides asked,  “who they would now be able to live with as their human partners?”
  •  the Creator agreed with the animals and the animals became the clans, different than the spirit animals but also very similar
  •  diversity of population in Peel region was the reason to do such an exhibition – the issue of hidden Indigenous people
  •  need for cultural space to seek out their culture, titled "We are here."
  •  exhibition design captures twists and turns of the forest leading to the lodge, sacred walk

No comments:

Post a Comment