Today is International Museum Day (IMD). Museums and art galleries have always been amongst my happy places — oases of culture, history and learning. Places to make discoveries, to connect with the past, and to dream.
The theme of this year’s IMD is “Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums.” According to the International Council of Museums:
This theme focuses on the role of museums that, by working to benefit society, become hubs for promoting peaceful relationships between people. It also highlights how the acceptance of a contested history is the first step in envisioning a shared future under the banner of reconciliation. Media release for launch of IMD: ICoM, May 18, 2017
Like most cultural institutions, museums have traditionally represented culture and heritage from a particular perspective — that of the society’s dominant groups. Women, ethnic and religious minorities, and members of various sub-cultures have tended to find our stories either absent, or told through a lens not our own.
Definitions of “culture” are themselves contested, and in fact I can remember a time in New Zealand when there was widespread popular debate about whether this country could be said to have “a culture” — and if so, of what it might consist.
In 1980, Kiwi band, The Knobz, released the song, Culture, in response to then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon’s assertion that pop music was not “culture.”
Thankfully, New Zealand, and the culture sector has moved on a bit.
I hope that this year’s Museum Appreciation Day theme will encourage both dialogue, and popular engagement with cultures, heritage and museums.
And ok: I’m trying to cover a few bases with this post:
Sue’s word this week is angle and I confess that in true journalist fashion, I’m using the theme as an “angle” to write about something I saw recently, that I think is very cool.
In Wellington recently, I walked to the top of Cuba Street to take tea at Martha’s Pantry. This cool little tea shop is on the corner of Cuba Street and Karo Drive and sits next door to Subject to Change, a sculpture by Regan Gentry.
Subject to Change is the steel skeleton of two walls of a heritage-type Victorian or Edwardian New Zealand building, such as used to occupy the site where the sculpture now sits – before that area was cleared in the construction of a new motorway.
According to Regan Gentry:It looks like a slice of a building left behind by the developers…tenuously existing on the edge of the new motorway. It mimics components and colour schemes of the buildings that are or were around it, to integrate it within the historical and contemporary context of the area.
Subject to Change is beautiful. I saw it on a clear, sunny morning when the vibrant red of the structure stood out against the muted colours around it. It is strong and powerful and clever and a poignant reminder of the heritage we destroy in the name of progress.