le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Context is key

A really interesting and smart post from David Haberstich, cataloguing editor/coordinator at the Smithsonian, about how to handle sensitive subjects, particularly focusing on race: "Confrontational Curator, Cowardly Cataloguer."

Haberstich's post seems particularly interesting and relevant to me when placed alongside Stephen Marche's essay in the NYTimes about reading racist materials to kids, which I discuss (at great length; I had a lot to say) in this post.

It seems clearer and clearer to me that - while outrage, disgust, anger about certain kinds of images and representations are totally legitimate - the solution is never to hide or conceal or deny those representations. Museums have the responsibility of providing context, which makes the jobs of curators, exhibit planners, etc, difficult, but it isn't too often that I've come across instances of recent exhibits in reputable institutions (creationist museums are not reputable, in my book) that seek to glorify, valorize, excuse, or justify racist representations on display. It's important to see some of this crap - the appalling racist cartoons and caricatures, the books, the scripts, the short films, whatever - because those things really happened, they really exist, and pretending racist history didn't happen is not going to make racism go away. Pretending slavery didn't occur, wasn't predicated on racism, pseudoscience, greed, a dozen other things - none of that is going to mean that slavery didn't happen.

Maybe there's a parallel with representations of the Holocaust. I'm not totally sure, but it does seem to me that a great many people work very hard to make sure the horrors of Nazism and genocidal anti-Semitism and the "Final Solution" stay in front of people's eyes. Yeah, it's awful to see rabbis scrubbing anti-Semitic graffiti from their own synagogues, using toothbrushes, while kicked and spit on by Nazis. The grotesque propaganda churned out by Hitler and his minions is ugly as anything - but it really happened. It's really real, and we need to know, all the time, that these things did happen, and can happen, and do happen. Hiding history behind complaints of insensitivity doesn't serve anyone's interests except deniers, racists, and fools. 

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