Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Controversies of Ruth Phillips, Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums

Dr Phillips discusses her new book Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums and the controversies surrounding museums and their obligation to First Nations political and spiritual demands in North America. The ways in which Aboriginal people and museums work together have changed drastically in recent decades. This historic process of decolonization, including distinctive attempts to institutionalize multiculturalism, has pushed Canadian museums to pioneer new practices that can accommodate both difference and inclusivity. Drawing on forty years of experience as an art historian, curator, exhibition critic, and museum director, she emphasizes the complex and situated nature of the problems that face museums, introducing new perspectives on controversial exhibitions (1967, 1988) and moments of contestation (1997). We discuss an uncle of mine Noel Wuttunee who was one of the principal artists at the contested Montreal 1967 Expo. We also discuss the 1988 Calgary Olympics and how much I enjoyed her work (I was 12) even though it boycotted by the some First Nations in Alberta (Lubicon Cree Nation) because they are still without treaty and the oil and resources are being stolen from them.

Ruth Phillips argues that these practices are "indigenous" not only because they originate in Aboriginal activism but because they draw on a distinctively Canadian preference for compromise and tolerance for ambiguity. Phillips dissects seminal exhibitions of Indigenous art to show how changes in display, curatorial voice, and authority stem from broad social, economic, and political forces outside the museum and moves beyond Canadian institutions and practices to discuss historically interrelated developments and exhibitions in the United States, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere.

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