The theme for this month’s GLAM Blog Club is…. Change! I have been considering what angle to take on this theme. Rather than just write about the changes I’ve experienced in my life, e.g. moving to work in a regional museum, I wanted to dig a little deeper. I love it when I visit a museum and leave feeling a little bit like I have, dare I say, changed. This could be on a real fundamental level, making me question my beliefs and values, or on a less intense level, making me stop and go wow that has had an impact. The following is a list of four museums/exhibitions that I feel have changed me in some way shape or form.
- Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial – a photographic exhibition by Jessica Ingram (temporary display at the Tennessee State Museum, 2016)
I’m going to start with a pretty intense exhibition that changed the way I think about documenting trauma and displaying it in a museum space. I stumbled across this exhibition while visiting Nashville in 2016. The Tennessee State Museum was on my must-see list. I had no idea that the museum was going to be so absolutely massive. Visitor fatigue set in quite quickly so I walked over to their temporary exhibition space to try and re-focus. It was here that I saw what has continued to be the most powerful exhibition I have ever seen.
To give you an overview, artist Jessica Ingram travelled to locations in the south of America where Civil Rights era crimes occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. At each location she took a photograph. Included are images of where the body of Emmett Till was discovered and where the Ku Klux Klan originated. In total, there were thirty photographs on display, each accompanied by a label that told the story of why the location photographed was significant. This exhibition was further supported by a range of oral history recordings.
I’ve included this exhibition because I really was taken aback by the power of these photographs. Some were of really innocent looking locations, for example a pretty standard looking forest. Then, you read the story associated and all of a sudden you couldn’t look at the photograph in the same way. It really made me question how I define a memorial. Rather than something physical left in a specific place as an act of remembrance, Ingram used absence in ways I had never seen before. It was this combination of a seemingly benign location with a horrific story attached that kept me captivated in the exhibition space for a very long time.
I want to finish this section with a short quote from the Society for Photographic Education. I think it beautifully sums up the impact of the display.
“As the years pass and the landscape transforms itself in ways both beautiful and banal, all that remains of these events are the memories and voices of those who lived through them.” (Source)
- Queensland Museum
I will be venturing down a completely different path for my next entry. When I was younger, there was nothing I loved more than visiting my local museum, the Queensland Museum. In fact, one day, as a treat, I distinctly remember being told that I could choose two out of the following three options: go to the movies and see George of the Jungle for the millionth time, go shopping in the city, or visit the museum. I settled on George of the Jungle and the museum. So to correct what I said earlier, there was nothing I loved more than visiting my local museum and seeing George of the Jungle.
I loved everything from the giant dinosaur statues in the dinosaur garden to the section on megafauna. So much so, I celebrated two birthdays in the museum including my 21st which was literally dinosaur themed and featured the cake pictured below. In primary school, we visited multiple times on excursion. During the school holidays, I would visit in my free time with family and friends. One school holiday program I remember particularly well was digging for Ancient Egyptian treasures. I would even take in snake skins we found in our garden to have the species identified.
I grew up really trusting and finding inspiration in this museum and, needless to say, it changed me because it made museums my happy place. I knew that when I was older, I wanted to eventually work in my happy place.
- Hunterian Museum (2016)
So we’ve established I wanted to spend all my time in a museum from a very young age. In terms of what type of museum, I had no idea until my final year of undergraduate honours in history. I took a course essentially on the history of medicine and decided to focus on medical history museums, including specimen collections. And so began my absolute fascination.
However, it wasn’t until I physically visited the Hunterian Museum that I really knew this was the type of collected I wanted to work with. It set me on a course of volunteering, interning and eventually working with medical history/medical specimens. It also sparked a great interest in the ethics of display and bigger questions of what happens to your body after death.
So you could say that visiting the Hunterian changed my long-term goals and set me on the path to where I am today.
- 100% Brisbane (Museum of Brisbane, 2017)
Since I started with an exhibition, as opposed to museum, that had a great impact, I wanted to end with another. When I was younger I didn’t really like where I lived. I had this whole “grass is greener” mentality and couldn’t wait to leave Brisbane. After a disappointing visit to the National Museum of Australia where I felt there wasn’t really a sense of identity conveyed that I could relate to, I was hesitant to visit this exhibition.
I am so glad I decided to visit anyway. The entire exhibition was like receiving a warm hug. I think this is because I saw it while I was living in Sydney and the exhibition essentially showed me everything I had been missing. It changed me from someone who sort of missed Brisbane to someone who was actually really proud of their city.
Museums are truly incredible places that can spark a change you never thought possible. It is so important for them to challenge, confront and inspire. I can only hope that whoever is reading this blog post will finish and have some happy memory of a museum that has changed them.