Visitor emotion, affect and registers of engagement at museums and heritage sites

Laurajane Smith (School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University),

6pm, 21st May 2013, Room 209, Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, University College London


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UCL Institute of Archaeology

The In-Betweenness of Things

Materializing Mediation and Movement between Worlds

22-23 March 2013

This two-day symposium was scheduled to coincide with the Sowei Mask: Spirit of Sierra Leone exhibition, on display at The British Museum between 14 February and 28 April 2013. The mask at the centre of the exhibition could be said to mediate between worlds. It materializes the interconnectivity between the worlds of the colonized and the colonizer in 19th-century West Africa. On the one hand it represents the radical 'otherness' of an African masquerade tradition, on the other hand it illustrates how those very traditions incorporated Western objects - such as the European top hat - and made them symbols of power. This hybrid object is neither purely African, nor purely European, but exists in a space between. Aside from its ritual context in which the mask mediates between the domain of the spirits and that of humankind, it speaks of the multi-directional mobility of people and things as well as the entanglement of culture and power in the late 19th century. Today, the mask mediates between the museum and its communities, including diasporic communities who live 'between' London and Sierra Leone.

Speakers from a wide variety of disciplines participated in this symposium to explore the concept of 'in-betweenness' in material and visual culture. Participants took an 'object-centred' approach, each using a particular object as a starting point to explore how things mediate between worlds in diverse cultural, geographic and temporal contexts. The papers expanded our understanding of the nature of mediation, hybridity, ambiguity, mobility, interconnectivity, creolization and entanglement, asking how such qualities are expressed in material form and in what ways is the mediatory agency of such objects articulated. The workshop investigated how such objects challenge the reification of dichotomized worldviews (us/them, here/there, present/past, modern/primitive).

A selection of papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Material Culture devoted to the theme of the symposium

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The event was sponsored by the Journal of Material Culture, the British Museum and the UCL Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies. It was organised by Paul Basu.

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