The Museum Trip

Posted: February 22, 2014 in CPD, Modernity & Network Culture
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Walking into Bristol museum is like walking into a cathedral – there is a reverence, a hushed expectation. When observing the different collections not only was I aware of the historical connections ofImage such items in terms of colonialism, but also the sterile environment in which the objects were kept. Sterile because they were void of their cultural meaning. Take the child’s robe from China that I chose. In one way it is simply an article of clothing. But that’s like saying that a diamond is just a diamond when there is a huge background of slave labour in South Africa, to the cultural implications of ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend!

Having read Edwards, Godson and Phillips book Sensible Objects:Colonialism,Museums and Material Culture,(2006) I wondered how many of these items were given freely by the people who owned them and how many were taken because we had such power over these countries! But there is a sense of custodianship in the museum. Items are displayed with great care. It is just such a shame we can’t touch and smell the objects. Stoler in her book Race and the Education of Desire states that “the hierarchy, class and caste were created and represented through clothing, buildings and…..around food, odors, sounds, and the bodily contacts in which material objects were, and continue to be, entangled.” Stoler p122 (1995)Image

The child’s robe opposite is from China and while looking at the robe the sense of sight was the only indigenous sensory experience I was allowed – other senses were denied to me. I wanted to touch the expensive silk of a robe that took two years to make. I wanted to smell the fabric, get a ‘feel’ for it. The sensory approach to objects allows us to get closer to them – to find out more about them and understand better the people and the culture from which the object originally came. How would that silk robe feel and importantly, how would it make me feel if I was wearing it (although at 6ft 4 and 14 stone I’m not sure it would be that comfortable).

Behind the glass cabinet, objects lose their potency and their power. Their cultural power is diluted to such an extent that when I look at the robe, I really don’t ‘feel’ much at all. The museum does not allow me to experience much more than this but this course is teaching me that the robe is more than just an object. It is a cultural symbol of power and influence, being the robe of an Emperor’s child.

The contemporary object that I found to make comparisons is a children’s Chinese top from Bristol Market. In this environment I could touch and smell the top as well as gain an insight into its locality. Similar material and style in a very different setting – two similar tops separated by over a hundred years. What was interesting was the two Imagesettings – one was interactive, cultural, social. The other was not. Perhaps museums could learn something from contemporary market places!Image

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Comments
  1. Gillian Swanson says:

    This blog is a better example of one which demonstrates systematic thinking and analysis. You could say WHAT in the Edwards et al piece made you consider the issue you raise, outlining what they say about it, and then going on to explore it in the context of your example. This would allow you to demonstrate a more systematic engagement with the module readings and show that you can use them as the foundation of your exploration of the topic.

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