Recently, I’ve gained the opportunity to work with museum curators and staff through the SEEK fellowship. This year, the museum is building an exhibit based on “Observation.” You can peruse the exhibit’s topic at this link: https://grad.msu.edu/news/seek-fellowship-msu-museum-observation-research-exhibition-fellowship. I applied because I am interested in human observation, especially when such observations are projected onto more-than-human beings. Is an anthropocentric lens inevitable? Can observations ever be evacuated from humans’ inherent biases? And how do we give, deny, or manipulate the ways these spectacles stare and speak back to us?
These questions overlapped in one of our rapid development challenges where we proposed an exhibit meant to enhance public engagement in a museum. My teammates and I chose the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. We were lored in by the acoustic guitar made by C.F. Martin and Co., and hand-painted by Christi Belcourt, which is currently displayed as a donation in the Truth and Reconciliation exhibit. It was donated as a symbol of how music was an escape for students in residential schools. The guitar also represents how survivors use music for sharing their experiences and as a tool for healing, as you can see quoted in the museum’s link to the exhibit: https://humanrights.ca/exhibition/truth-and-reconciliation. We thought it would be interesting to engage in a new materialist approach (only thought so from a western and perhaps even simply an academic perspective) by more concretely “giving” these exhibits a voice; a way to talk back. However, after receiving some constructive criticism, the concerns that encouraged me to apply for the SEEK fellowship seem more paramount than ever. I not only question what it means to “give,” or perhaps more accurately, translate, listen to, or amplify the voices of these exhibits from an anthropocentric lens but from a eurocentric lens as well, especially within colonized spaces.