Objects tell many stories, and a museum label can only hold so much information. Moreover, labels are usually written by museum workers like curators, who control what objects go on display and what information is being shared. In this way museums have the power to represent different objects and cultures to wider audiences by choosing which objects are displayed, and how. The goal of RePresent is to change our perception of objects on display by sharing many stories — to re-present the objects to audiences by better representing communities and cultures. We want audiences to read labels that include memories, personal stories, and emotional connections to the objects on display. We also want to develop better relationships with the many diverse audiences local to museums, who may feel excluded by current programming and alienated by current displays.
For the first stage of the RePresent Project, a pilot workshop was planned with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. This workshop was moved online to ensure participant safety and the museum's compliance with pandemic regulations. In September 2020, participants from local community group the Cambridge African Network, met online for a series of sessions and discussed heritage and representation in museums. Using MAA's online catalogue and working with facilitators, participants then selected an object from all those currently on display in the museum. The goal was to select an object to which they had a strong response, about which they would want to tell a story or teach a part of history. Participants were able to choose objects from any part of the world, including places they had lived or travelled, or objects to which they had no connection but were drawn to all the same. The idea behind this was to subvert the myths of expertise and neutrality behind many museum labels - that curators can comment on cultures around the world, but communities of colour may only speak about their own - as well as show how sharing personal anecdotes rather than academic-style labels can make objects in cases come alive for audiences.
Participants then wrote their thoughts on these objects, which were installed as labels in MAA in October 2020. They also recorded incredible audio versions of these labels, and in some cases, extended audio pieces speaking about the objects in detail. The work they have done is truly wonderful and we hope you feel as lucky listening to them as we did. Some of the objects they worked with had been looted from the places that they themselves came from. It is important to hear their thoughts, in their own words.
Learn more about the participants and their selected objects here:
Here is an audio tour of the exhibition, led by Korantema Anyimadu, and featuring Chioma Vivian Ngonadi, Chioma Ubajaka, Edward Imhagwe, John Uche Ngonadi, and Isaac Ayamba.
The workshop was organised by Danika Parikh, with Korantema Anyimadu working as a Facilitator and Sound Curator, and Tara Okeke as an Assistant Facilitator. Additional support was provided by Edward Imhagwe of the Cambridge African Network, and Sarah-Jane Harknett of MAA. We are grateful for the support of CAN and MAA, and our funders for making this workshop possible. All participants were compensated for their time, as were the facilitators.