Understanding Authenticity: Museum Representation and Cross-Cultural Perspective
Culturally, we define certain objects as authentic and others as not. This same practice can be seen in Museums. Authenticity of objects is different in a museum than at the source community, and this often creates problems with representation and display. For my thesis project, I will be comparing Native views of authenticity and the views of two different subdivisions of museums in relation to Iroquois False Face masks. I will be conducting my research using Iroquois False Face masks from the Exhibit Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, as well as data from other museums that have a history related to Iroquois False Face masks. Analysis will include analyzing the masks creation (speaking with Native groups and artists), movement and usage in different contexts and most recent homes at the museum. These particular collections of masks are interesting because they were collected at different times and in different contexts. These masks are also important to understand because they have a lot of controversy surrounding them. They have been taken off display due to Native concerns, even though some are tourist items. In addition, comparing what characteristics make the object authentic in a research versus an exhibit museum reveals the problems of art and artifact. I hope that my research will illustrate the importance of Native collaboration in museums and the need for an additional and important voice of authenticity.