"Museum Utopias, Museum Dystopias: The Dawning of the Age of Hybridity," Talk by Ruth Phillips
This lecture reviews the transformational changes that have occurred in the representation of indigenous peoples and 'multicultural' communities in North America during the past twenty-five years. These transformations have involved both process-- most importantly power transfers and power-sharing arrangements-- and product-- the forceful presence of minority voices and perspectives in exhibitions.
The result of these transformations has been a hybridization that takes three forms in contemporary museums: new kinds of content in exhibitions, collaborative processes for the development of exhibits and programs, and a deliberate blurring of the disciplinary typology that has structured the modern museum system. Although these three modes of hybridity are interrelated, it is useful to distinguish them as a way to assess the gains and potential losses that have occurred. The subtitle of the lecture invokes the lyrics from the 1960s song, "The Age of Aquarius" in order to point to the parallel millenarian ethos that informs these museological transformations. I argue that we can omit the original question mark because the 'dawning' of the age of hybridity has already occurred in museums. We must now confront the question -- particularly urgent in Canada in light of the radical changes the Conservative government has recently announced for our national museums-- of whether we will succeed in seeing the new day of its unfolding.
Ruth B. Phillips holds a Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture and is Professor of Art History at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. After doctoral research on Mende women’s masks from West Africa, she focused her research and teaching on Native North American art and critical museology. Her most recent book, Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums (2011), was shortlisted for the Donner Prize in Canadian Public Policy and won the Ottawa Book Award for non-fiction. Other books include Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900 (1998), Native North American Art (with Janet Catherine Berlo, 1998), and Unpacking Culture: Arts and Commodities in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds (co-edited with Christopher Steiner, 1999). She served as director of the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology from 1997-2003 and as president of CIHA, UNESCO’s world association of art historians, from 2004-8. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.