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Faces Exhibit Text 12-24

Faces Exhibit Text 12-24

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Published by Steven Lubar

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Published by: Steven Lubar on Dec 29, 2011
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Facing the Museum
(Case: left label) These “ethnographical busts,” created at the turn of the 20th century,were retrieved from a dumpster at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and, figuratively, out of the rubbish bin of the historyof anthropology. Museum artists produced more than five hundredsbusts to show early anthropologists’ belief that humanity wascomposed of a number of fixed racial and ethnic groups that could bearranged hierarchically from the primitive to most highly evolved.Why show them here? In bringing these busts out of the trash, weacknowledge the legacies of colonialism and racism in theanthropology museum. We also note the progress museums havemade, and urge you to consider the challenges museums face indisplaying the “other” in a respectful and non-objectifying way.(Case: center label (main label))Museums of anthropology have a complicated history. Once placesthat constructed hierarchies of humanity, museums today serve ascenters for understanding the beauty, complexity and diversity of theworld’s cultures.“The story that the museum could tell, and whose telling would makeits present function so much more powerful, is the story of therepresentational practice exercised in this museum and in mostmuseums of its kind. This is the story of the changing but still vitalcollusion between privilege and knowledge, possession and display,stereotyping and realism.”—Mieke Bal,
Double Exposures: The Subject of Cultural Analysis
,1996(Case, right label) These masks, like so many artifacts in the museum, represent identity,tradition, creativity, and community. They suggest individual andgroup identity, as well as religious and spiritual beliefs. They showcommunities defining themselves through material culture andperformance. They introduce the museum as well. We have chosen artifacts thatrepresent some of the ways that objects enter the collections:archaeology, contracts with artists, ethnographic field collecting, andby purchase and generous gift.
 
Reading museum collections consists, in part, of re-collecting andrearranging these fragments of lived experience into a meaningfulorder. The collection tells a story, but its narrative possibilities areopen-ended... The museum is a vast repository of the shards of history,fragments of a whole whose reconstruction is an interpretive gesture.—Thomas Ross Miller and Barbara Mathe, “Drawing Shadows toStone,” 1997Object labels for ethnographical busts (in case)Lyman LayLyman Lay was about 13 years old when this bust was made in 1897.He grew up on the Seneca Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in upstateNew York. Caspar Mayer, the sculptor who made these busts, wrote toFranz Boas, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, that he had selected individuals “as near full blood asthere could be found on the reservation”—settling Euro-American ideasabout race on Native peoples, a practice that would help to definesome Eastern tribes out of existence.WeshebaWesheba was 18 years old when American missionary Samuel PhillipsVerner brought him from the Belgian Congo to the 1904 St. LouisExposition, where Caspar Mayer made this bust. He was one of about adozen men in a display of Pygmies, one of dozens of races displayed atthe Fair. Pygmies were considered the “lowest form of humandevelopment.” Ota Benga, another Pigmy whose cast was taken byMayer, was later displayed in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo;after considerable controversy, he was allowed free.KarioKario was from the island of Mindoro, in the Philippines. Twenty fiveyears old when Mayer made a cast of his head, he was part of a verylarge display from the Philippines at the 1904 St. Louis Expositionintended to introduce the new United States colony and to show the“benefits” of American imperialism. Territorial governor WilliamHoward Taft believed that display at the Fair would have “a very greatinfluence in completing pacification.” He also hoped it would benefitFilipinos through Americanization; exhibiting the many tribes woulddemonstrate the need for a common language and American schools.
 
Minni Painted HorseMinni Painted Horse, born in 1853, was probably part of Col. FredCummins’ Indian Congress at the 1901 Pan American Exposition inBuffalo. A combination Wild West show and ethnographic exhibition,the troupe travelled the country, and to Europe, putting on displays –and being put on display. The “Indian Congress” was at Coney Island in1903. Museum anthropologists visited, photographed Mrs. PaintedHorse and several others, and made the plaster cast from which thisbust was created. Haffenreffer educators painted the bust in the 1980sto make it look more realistic.Unknown Yakut man This bust was created from photographs taken on the AmericanMuseum of Natural History’s Jesup Expedition to Alaska and Siberia(1897-1902), which sought the origins of Native Americans, and torecord traditional cultures. Expedition scientists measured andphotographed hundreds of Native peoples. Artists at the museum usedthese information to make busts, which were then used for statisticalanalysis, display, and for the heads of museum mannequins.Franz Boas, the scientist in charge of the expedition, increasingly cameto question the concept of fixed physical racial characteristics. He putmore emphasis on language and culture. His work established arelativistic view of human equality, disproving the idea of racialhierarchies. Boas displayed objects in settings to show the culture of agroup of people, not evolutionary fantasies.Cashinahua gourd mask,
munti xetaya
Abriu made this mask in 1968 for Bimitudu, both members of theCashinahua tribe living in Samwiunan, an Amazonian rainforest villagein eastern Peru. Cashinahua men carve masks from gourds, decoratingthem with monkey teeth, armadillo plates, feathers, hair, paint andseeds to represent male and female mythological figures. Maskedperformances often highlight conflicts within the Cashinahua

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