Yuki Kihara, Odalisque (After Boucher), 2017, from the series ‘Coconuts that grew from concrete’ - Research Center for Material Culture
24 June 2017

Declassified: How to Un/Engender the Ethnographic Object

Symposium | 24 Jun 2017 | Tropenmuseum

The symposium Declassified: How to Un/Engender the Ethnographic Object traces the (historical) construction of gender and sexuality within the collecting practices of ethnographic museums. 

Collecting Practices

Collecting practices that engendered the earliest ethnographic collections were decidedly European and male. Such collections, largely created in the study of other cultures and regions, took the constitutive elements of social structure and gender as fixed and given, defined (and biased) by a normative European (most often male) gaze. Throughout the past century these collecting methodologies that have classified objects from across the world have not only contributed to the creation of a blueprint of how gender and sexuality are perceived and constructed within the institution, but also viewed by visitors and reproduced within texts and exhibitions.

These restrictive binary notions of sexuality and gender have in many ways elided the fact that across the globe various cultural groups have recognized and integrated their own long-established traditions for other constructions of gender. Some of these groups are well represented within ethnographic collection, but due to gaps, silences, misreadings and fictions these objects are often wrongly interpreted. How can we un/engender these ethnographic objects? What does it mean for a museum to side-step its own body of knowledge and critically rethink its own understanding of how gender and sexuality are attached to its objects?


Declassified: How to Un/Engender the Ethnographic Object? is an invitation to trace, question and discuss the normative notions of sexual, gendered and political identities within ethnographic museums and institutions. Declassified: How to Un/Engender the Ethnographic Object? is part of the Un/Engendered series of lectures and events where we delve into the multiple meanings and roles of gender in our collections. In this series we invite scholars, activists and artists question, to rethink and rewrite notions of gender, body politics and sexuality, and its relation to patriarchy in contemporary societies.

This program is developed in collaboration with Framer Framed, Amsterdam. Framer Framed has developed in the past two years programs and exhibitions, which address themes of the body, gender and sexuality.

*Image: 'Fa'afafine; in a manner of a woman (triptych 1/3)' [2005] Yuki Kihara Courtesy of Yuki Kihara, Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney


  • Introduction: Wayne Modest (head Research Center for Material Culture)
  • Speaker: Dr. Wonu Veys (curator National Museum of World Cultures)
  • Speaker: Yuki Kihara (artist)
  • Speaker: Maria Guggenbichler (artist)
  • Speaker: Pim Westerkamp (curator National Museum of World Cultures)