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Contested Representations

Contested Representations: RevisitingInto the Heart of Africa

Shelley Ruth Butler
Foreword by Anthony Shelton
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Contested Representations
    Book Description:

    "A gold mine for teaching and the rarest of ethnographic studies, Butler's study carries us into the heart of one of the most divisive cultural firestorms to ever hit museums." - Jeffrey Feldman, New York University

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0326-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List Of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. 1-4)
    Anthony Shelton

    Since its appearance in 1999, Shelley Ruth Butler’s concise, informed, and cogently argued work has quickly become a classic case study in critical museology. The increased pace of renewal and expansion of established ethnographic galleries,¹ the reorganization of older institutions into world culture museums,² and the opening of new non-Western art museums,³ often within even more highly attenuated politicized contexts than that described by Butler, makes her text more poignant now than when it was first printed. Sadly, few of these important projects have been given the attention that Butler gives the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) exhibition,Into the Heart...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 5-6)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Entering the Debates
    (pp. 7-20)

    In his widely quoted paper, “The Museum: A Temple or the Forum” (1971), Duncan Cameron distinguishes between two opposing museum stances. The idea of the museum as temple has its origins in the historical moment when private collections in Europe such as royal treasures and cabinets of curiosities — all of which testified to Europe’s imperial conquests — were transferred to public hands. Until this development, which occurred a little over a century ago, collections were generally viewed as private, idiosyncratic affairs. If a scholar, for example, had a rare opportunity to view a private collection, the collection was understood...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Into the Heart of Africa and the Status Quo
    (pp. 21-48)

    Tourists, including those visiting a museum, want “the real thing.” As tourists, we typically search for all that is authentic, pristine, and genuine.¹ Natural history and anthropology museums respond to this nostalgia for the authentic by offering visitors exhibits of exotic others, other worlds, worlds long past. This is why Richard Handler calls our museums modern “temples of authenticity” (1986: 4). At the museum, tourists view objects that metonymically stand for the culture of their creators. By viewing these ethnographic fragments, visitors can experience and appropriate authenticity. Moreover, no twentieth-century museum is without a souvenir shop, which allows visitors to...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Prelude to the Controversy
    (pp. 49-60)

    WhenInto the Heart of Africaopened in November 1989, it received favourable reviews from diverse audiences. Colin Rickards, writing forShare, which describes itself as “Canada’s largest ethnic paper,” praised the exhibit highly. He commended the ROM for showing its African collection to the public, and he described Cannizzo’s reflexive approach as fascinating:

    Jeanne Cannizzo, who has worked and studied in Sierra Leone, pondered over the question of whether she could make some 350 selected objects from this Aladdin’s Cave of memorabilia into an exhibition. She could, and did, and her brainchild became the Into the Heart of Africa...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Coalition for the Truth about Africa: Strategies and Challenges
    (pp. 61-84)

    In discussing the Coalition for the Truth about Africa (CFTA), I want to emphasize theoretical issues such as performance, power, resistance, and process. These concepts are useful for understanding people as agents or subjects in their own history. In a broad sense, anthropologists focus on performance in order to explain relationships between human action and the enduring social structure. What was the lasting impact, for example, of protest demonstrations against the ROM andInto the Heart of Africa? The anthropology of performance stresses the productive aspect of such an encounter, focusing on how the protestors contested and redefined dominant symbols.¹...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Various Positions: Responses to the Coalition for the Truth about Africa
    (pp. 85-104)

    The debates aroundInto the Heart of Africaextended far beyond the exhibit itself. Most people involved in, or touched, by the controversy positioned themselves in complex ways in relation to the exhibit, Cannizzo, and the CFTA. Consequently, many people I interviewed expressed differently nuanced evaluations of the controversy, rarely situating themselves squarely on one side of the debate. However, such fluidity was not apparent in dominant constructions of the controversy. The ROM, the media, and the CFTA contributed to creating a highly polarized “us versus them” debate. This chapter begins by examining how the ROM and the media marginalized...

  11. Afterword: Canonizing an Exhibition, Renovating the ROM
    (pp. 105-124)

    When this book was first published in 1999,Into the Heart of Africahad already become a touchstone for discussions about the limitations and possibilities of reflexive museology, as well as about post-colonial and multicultural identity politics.¹ At that time, I noted in my Afterword that the ROM controversy raised key questions about curatorial strategies. For instance, is it possible to mount a critical and reflexive exhibition from within an establishment museum such as the ROM? Further, can such an exhibition be accessible to a wide audience? Today, these questions remain central to theInto the Heart of Africacontroversy....

  12. Appendix: Coalition for the Truth about Africa Pamphlet
    (pp. 125-130)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 131-138)
  14. References
    (pp. 139-161)
  15. Index
    (pp. 162-168)