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Do Museums Need Objects? Working at the Intersection of Repatriation, Museums, and Emerging Technologies

On November 1, 2019, CRiCS and UWinnipeg's MA Program in Cultural Studies co-hosted a panel with Jaimie Isaac, Maureen Matthews, and Hannah Turner titled "Do Museums Need Objects? Working at the Intersection of Repatriation, Museums, and Emerging Technologies" in CRiCS's Knowledge Mobilization Lab. Speaking to a group of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as members of CRiCS's Cultural Studies Research Group, the panel discussed questions of repatriation and object digitization as it relates to museum and gallery collections.

The return of objects to Indigenous communities is an important part of contemporary museum work. This work often also includes the ethical management of objects in collections, the shifting of curatorial voice and authority, as well as the use of new media technologies for artistic approaches. This panel explored the history of museum repatriation work, and question the use of emerging technologies within conscious decolonial curatorial methodologies. The presenters screened a short film from the exhibit BoarderX (curated by Jaimie Isaac) entitled Wrapped in the Cloud (Meghann O’Brien/Jaad Kuujus, Kate Hennessy, Hannah Turner, Conrad Sly, 2018); a reinterpretation of the artist Meghann O’Brien’s (Jaad Kuujus) weaving, Sky Blanket (2014). 

Jaimie Isaac is the Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and interdisciplinary artist. Isaac blends artistic production and community engagement within her curatorial practice. Working inside and outside institutional systems she’s interested in creating space to challenge the canon and expand contemporary and art historical narratives. Isaac’s thesis research focus was Decolonizing Curatorial Practice and has contributed to publications and authored exhibitions further exploring that research.

Maureen Matthews is the Curator of Cultural Anthropology at the Manitoba Museum, and is the author of the book, Naamiwam’s Drum:  The Story of a Contested Repatriation of Anishinaabe Artefacts (2016)She is an expert and award winning documentary maker, and she holds a DPhil from Oxford in Anthropology.

Hannah Turner is an Assistant Professor in the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies (SLAIS) at the University of British Columbia. Her work examines the connection between histories of classification, material culture and digital technologies; and she is interested in how settler colonial logics can be critically examined in museum technologies. Her upcoming monograph, Cataloguing Culture: Legacies of Colonialism in Museum Documentation, is due out this spring.

For more information on Wrapped in the Cloud, check out the article Wrapped in the Cloud: A Conversation with Meghann O’Brien and Conrad Sly in the 50th Anniversary Issue of BC Studies.