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Paper Information:
Type: Paper
Paper Title: LAUNDERING THE PAST: POWER AND THE PRODUCTION OF EXHIBITIONS
Author: SALLY PRICE (College of William & Mary)   
Date/Time: Sat., 2:00 PM
Co-Author(s): SALLY PRICE (College of William & Mary) 
Abstract: Jumping off from Trouillot’s essay on Columbian commemorations in Silencing the Past, this paper explores the way art objects (and their makers) are laundered for public consumption in museum displays. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s argument that exhibitions are essentially a matter of “surgical excisions” and Ruth Phillips’s critique of the museological separation of African masks from their costumes set the scene for reflections on the presentation of art objects in exhibitions. Is an attractively carved pre-Columbian spatula a work of art or an instrument to induce vomiting during rituals? Museum curators make the call. Did the Northwest Coast transformation mask come from the collection of Claude Lévi-Strauss or from a dealer involved in illegal trafficking? One goes on the label and the other drops out of sight. Was the elaborately carved mandolin made by a 19th-century slave in Suriname or by a 20th-century schoolteacher in the back room of his urban apartment? The instrument’s known history is silenced and museum-goers are offered the sanitized replacement. As Trouillot has demonstrated, history as “what happened in the past” and history as “what is said to have happened in the past” are rarely contiguous. Paris’s Quai Branly museum, which some had envisioned as a precious postcolonial opportunity to acknowledge the uses and abuses of power that have produced ethnographic collections, offers examples of how tempting it can be to maintain a selective silencing of the past as part of the celebration of artistic traditions.

Program Number: 4-0750
Session Title: HISTORY, MEMORY, GLOBALIZATION: IN HONOR OF MICHEL-ROLPH TROUILLOT
Session Sponsor: American Ethnological Society
Session Date/Time: Sat., 1:45 PM-5:30 PM
Organizer(s): RICHARD PRICE (College of William & Mary), BRACKETTE WILLIAMS (University of Arizona) 
Chair(s): RICHARD PRICE (College of William & Mary)  
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