Museums of the Exotic World

In this guest lecture by Nathalia Brichet (Aarhus), we ask: What if future ethnographic museums were seen in light of Renaissance curiosity cabinets?

In this presentation Brichet will address this question in order to explore the potential of exotic and curious artifacts for the museum practices of an interconnected and post-colonial world.

Seashells on a shelf.
Brichet suggest celebrating that objects become interesting through certain assemblages, and that the responsibility of the curator is to enlarge the world. Illustration photo: Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

The curiosity cabinets held and exhibited all kinds of objects seen by the collectors to display the diversity, strangeness and beauty of the earth, thereby expanding the world of their visitors.

To ethnographic museums used to exhibiting objects as representing regional, cultural or ethnic categories, the cabinets may appear as assembled according to contingent systems of classification. But what the curiosity cabinets might point to by their jumbled character is a way to further the critique of representation that anthropologists have launched. Thus, the cabinets can help us make a virtue of the mutual constitution of artifact and perspective and, accordingly, show that principles of classification of objects are not universally (pre-)given by geography, chronology or other such orders.

In consequence, and based on two recent ethnographic collections and exhibitions, Brichet suggest celebrating that objects become interesting through certain perspectives and assemblages, and that it is the responsibility of the curator to co-create the artifacts and thus enlarge the world.

Might ethnographic museums of the 21st century aim not at representing the other, whether as same or different, but at creatively exoticizing the curious world we all share?

About the lecturer

Nathalia Brichet is a postdoctoral researcher with the AURA project; the Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene.

She received her PhD in Anthropology in 2012 from University of Copenhagen.

Brichet is also part of the research project “Natural Goods? Processing Raw Materials in Global Times” at the University of Copenhagen, which funded her postdoc research in 2013-2015.

Her research centers on extractive industries in Greenland and Denmark, focusing mainly on gold, rubies and brown coal.

In addition, Brichet is engaged in exhibition work, using fieldwork to collect, discuss and exhibit anthropological analyses in collaboration with people she engages with, be they interlocutors, curators or colleagues from museums in Denmark, Ghana, Great Britain, Greenland, and USA. She has curated collaborative exhibitions at the National Museum of Denmark, National Museum of Ghana and at Moesgaard Museum in Denmark.

Tags: Geology, Museums and Museology
Published Jan. 26, 2018 2:55 PM - Last modified June 19, 2020 12:22 PM