Wampum belt; Northeastern North America; 18th century Shell, leather; 116 x 8 cm. RMV 364-1; purchased from dealer Charles Jamrach, London, 1883
30 November 2018

Keywords for a Future Practice

Seminar | 30 Nov 2018 | RCMC

Keywords for a Future Practice

Certain keywords like stewardship, source community, shared knowledge, and repatriation have animated recent discourse and practice around ethnographic collections. On a practical level, such working concepts are a positive step towards giving historically aggrieved communities a platform for communicating and negotiating with institutions. However, we could ask whether these strategic engagements essentially support the liberal Western conceit of the 'Universal Museum', protecting rather than redressing the persistent and gross power differential established by the European conquest and exploitation of other lands. Many would argue that the former colonial powers still dictate the terms of engagement with the objects and histories of the cultures they 'collected'. 

But objects always retain the capacity to exceed their hermeneutical, if not physical, enclosure. How might this capacity of objects and collections be better mobilized under current institutional constraints? Perhaps we might start with language. Can such objects and collections as bundles of various histories, subjects, relations, material properties and values prompt us to develop a different kind of language (and ultimately practice) for the museum project? What conceptual and ethical work are required to embrace and promote more complex or even revolutionary relationships between past and present conditions, between the human and non-human, between those in possession and those dispossessed?

This seminar will examine (legally and scientifically rooted) concepts like property, ownership, preservation, provenance, and security that largely foreclose the possibility of museum practices that move towards more capacious, distributed and participatory engagements with objects, histories and knowledge making practices. Participants will also speculate on alternative or reworked concepts such as care, possession, belonging, access and availability to see what different possibilities such terms (or others) might open up.


10:30 - 12:00pm
Welcome by Wayne Modest
Presentation:  Eunsong Kim, Provenance & Colonialism: reimagining Louis Agassiz's photographic archives
Chair and respondent: Esther Peeren,

Discussion themes: property, ownership, provenance, possession

Informal Roundtable Discussion with Eungsong Kim, Uzma Z. Rizvi and Wayne Modest

12:00 - 1:00pm Lunch break

1:00 - 2:30pm
Presentation: Uzma Z. Rizvi, Decolonizing Heritage as Care-full Futures
Presentation:  Wayne Modest, Caring Matters
Chair and Respondent: Eliza Steinbock

Discussion themes: preservation, care

2:30 - 3:00 Coffee & Tea break

3:00 - 4:30
Presentation (via skype): Salam al Kuntar,Title TBA
Chair and Respondent: Anouk de Koning

Discussion themes: mobility, security, access, availability

4:30 - 5:30pm Reception

Eunsong Kim Eunsong Kim is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Northeastern University. She completed her PhD at UC San Diego. Her book project in progress, The Politics of Collecting: Property & Race in the Formation of Aesthetics considers how legal conceptions of racialized property become foundational to avant-garde and modern understandings of innovation in the arts. Eunsong co-founded and co-runs the arts forum, contemptorary, a magazine supported by the Andy Warhol Art Writers Grant Program, dedicated to featuring, interviewing and archiving artists of color and publishing emerging perspectives in the arts. For her work bridging the conversation between contemporary art and politics, she received the 2016 Poynter Fellowship in journalism at Yale University. Her essays have appeared in: Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association, Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, The New Inquiry, and in the book anthologies, Poetics of Social Engagement and Reading Modernism with Machines. Her poetry has appeared in the Brooklyn Magazine, The Iowa Review, Minnesota Review, and West Branch amongst others. Her first book of poetry, gospel of regicide, was published by Noemi Press in 2017, and her co-translation (with Sung Gi Kim) of Kim Eon Hee’s poetic text Have You Been Feeling Blue These Days? will be published in March of 2019.

Anouk de Koning is associate professor at the department of Anthropology and Development Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen. She leads the research project Reproducing Europe: Migrant Parenting and Everyday Citizenship, which is funded by an ERC Starting Grant (2015-2020). This multi-sited anthropological study examines 'everyday citizenship' in a context in which the presence of migrants has increasingly come to be seen as a burden or threat. The project studies the negotiation of everyday citizenship by examining encounters between migrant parents and the state in in Paris, Milan and Amsterdam. Her first book, Global Dreams: Class, Gender and Public Space in Cosmopolitan Cairo (American University in Cairo Press, 2009, also available in Arabic), examines how young middle-class professionals navigate Cairo's increasingly divided landscape and discusses the rise of a young upper-middle class presence in the work, leisure, and public spaces of the city.

Salam al Kuntar is a Lecturer Assistant Professor of Archaeology at Rutgers University. Until recently, she had been a Research Fellow at the Penn Museum of the University of Pennsylvania where she co-directed the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project and co-curated the exhibition Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories From Syria and Iraq. Until 2012, she worked for the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria. She received her Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge. She has extensive scholarly and field experience and has been the co-director of the Tell Hamoukar Expedition since 2005. Salam is also a National Geographic emerging explorer.

Wayne Modest is the head of the Research Center for Material Culture. He is also professor of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies (by special appointment) in the faculty of humanities at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (VU). Modest was previously, head of the curatorial department at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Keeper of Anthropology at the Horniman Museum in London, and Director of the Museums of History and Ethnography in Kingston, Jamaica. Modest’s work is driven by a concern for more historically contingent ways of understanding the present, especially in relation to material culture/museum collections. His research interests include issues of belonging and displacement; material mobilities; histories of (ethnographic) collecting and exhibitionary practices; difficult/contested heritage (with a special focus on slavery, colonialism and post-colonialism); Caribbean Thought. More recently Modest has been researching and publishing on heritage and citizenship in Europe with special attention for urban life, and on ethnographic museums and questions of redress/repair.

Esther Peeren is Professor of Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Her research focuses on the relationship between the cultural imagination (literature, film, TV and art) and social issues relating to identity formation, marginalisation and agency. Based on theoretically informed analyses of the narratives and images highlighted by specific cultural objects, she shows how the cultural imagination both contributes to shaping social reality and to reflecting – critically or otherwise – upon it. From 2018 to 2023, Peeren will lead the research project ‘Imaging the Rural in a Globalizing World’, for which she was awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). Peeren's earlier research focused on the concept of spectrality, which uses the metaphor of the ghost or haunting to explain how the past plays an active role in the present and how particular aspects of social reality are consciously or unconsciously rendered invisible. Her monograph The Spectral Metaphor: Living Ghosts and the Agency of Invisibility (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) shows how novels, films and television series shed light on the complex but often also strategic way in which undocumented migrants, domestic workers, mediums and missing people navigate between visibility and invisibility.

Uzma Z. Rizvi is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of International Studies at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. Her current research work is focused on Ancient Pakistan and UAE, both during the third millennium BCE. She has co-edited three books, published numerous articles and book chapters, and has had essays published in e-flux, The New Inquiry, and ArteEast Quarterly. She is also a regular contributor to the anthropology blog, anthro{dendum} (previously Savage Minds). She utilizes poetics as a mode through which to push the limits of archaeological theory. Additionally, her research focuses on ancient subjectivity and related to that, the idea of an intimate architecture; war and trauma in relationship to the urban fabric; and finally, epistemological critiques of archaeology in the service of decolonizing archaeology.

Eliza Steinbock is a VENI laureate and Assistant Professor at LUCAS, where they are involved in critical diversity issues. Eliza trained in cultural analysis (PhD 2011) and investigates visual culture mediums like film, digital media, and photography, with a special focus on dimensions of race, gender and sexuality. Their forthcoming book, Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment and the Aesthetics of Change (Duke University Press March 2019) traces how cinema offers alternative ways to understand gender transitions through a specific aesthetics of change. Their second book project is on contemporary transgender (self) portraiture in the wider field of visual activism, which includes interviews with trans-identified cultural producers based in Toronto, Berlin, Cape Town and Johannesberg. Eliza has co-edited four special issues, the most recent with Laura Horak and Cáel Keegan for Somatechnics Journal on “Cinematic Bodies” (2018), and with Bram Ieven and Marijke de Valck is planning the edited volume Art and Activism in the Age of Systemic Crisis: Aesthetic Resilience forthcoming with Routledge Research in Art and Politics.

Image credit

Wampum belt; Northeastern North America; 18th century
Shell, leather; RMV 364-1; purchased from dealer Charles Jamrach, London, 1883

Multiply understood as a mnemonic device, currency, a treaty or agreement, a transitional space and a living thing that requires specific acts of care (see Hopkins and Rickard), Wampum belts (like many other 'objects' in ethnographic collections) call into question the adequacy of dominant museum logics of preservation, ownership and collections management.