Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Jane V. Lapasaran (page 1 of 3)

Identity: Who are we in museums?

Throughout this semester, I had the opportunity to work with my peers to develop an interpretive project mostly from scratch. I emphasize the word mostly here because we were fortunate enough to find inspiration from Tufts’s very own Art Datathon, an event hosted by the Tufts University Art Gallery that explored the ways data in museum collections is not as objective as we assume it is.

For me, this class was the culmination of my time in this program; it was a blend of old and new knowledge, a chance to practice skills I already had and more importantly, a chance to develop those that I really struggled with. While working on this project, there were a lot of hurdles that made me question how I really fit into the museum space. What kind of educator do I want to be? What biases do I carry into my own interpretive styles? It was cathartic, especially as I near the end of my time as an editor for this blog and a student in this program.

The project itself, Obscured Identities, challenges the collections database at Tufts University Art Gallery using questions similar to those I asked myself. Our group looked at these objects, looked at the data, and asked ourselves if this data truly represents their story. Can we really say that the data is objective and without bias? Interpreting these objects and their reported data revealed that no, we can’t really assume those things. For some of us, this was difficult to grapple with. It took a lot of introspective reflection and creativity to begin telling these stories, interpreting these objects, not just through the data available, but also the data missing. One piece I worked closely with is Justice Ofoni’s “Best in Haircut” which is a barbershop sign from Ghana. Perhaps the biggest story we pulled from the data was the cultural identity stripped from this piece. According to the art gallery’s database, “Best in Haircut” is culturally African. Yet, we also know that the piece is from Ghana; so why do we reduce this cultural identity to the broad scope of an entire continent? These stories and challenges were the core of our project, which materialized through a virtual exhibit using StoryMaps.

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“Best in Haircut” by Justice Ofoni

I’m grateful for this project and the experience it offered me, and I’m even more grateful for my peers who supported each other throughout its development. 

To learn more and see the final exhibition, you can view it here on StoryMaps.

Weekly Job Roundup

Internships

Preliminary Assessment of Glass Containers Used to Store Fluid-Preserved Specimens, Smithsonian Institution, Suitland, MD

Plant Curation Internship, Plimoth Patuxet Museums, Plymouth, MA

Marketing Internship, Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA

Development Internship, Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA

DEAI Internship, Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA

Museum Education Internship, Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA

Tully Family Internship in Museum Education, Hingham Historical Society, Hingham, MA

Administrative

Regional Site Administrator, Historic New England, Salem, MA

Museum Coordinator, Katharine Hepburn Museum, Old Saybrook, CT

Museum Associate, Lippitt House Museum, Providence, RI

Education Program Coordinator, Plimoth Patuxet Museums, Plymouth, MA

Collections

Intellectual Property Coordinator, Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT

Assistant Curator, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, MA

Collections Manager and Registrar, Hingham Historical Society, Hingham, MA

Development and Marketing

Corporate and Relations Foundation Manager, Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT

Education Marketing and Outreach Consultant, Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH

Development Manager, Hingham Historical Society, Hingham, MA

Education

Museum Educator, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Tisbury, MA

Education and Public Programs Manager, Pequot Library Assocation, Southport, CT

Education Coordinator, SEE Science Center, Manchester, NH

Interpreter, Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT

Visitor Services Representative, Nichols House Museum, Boston, MA

Exhibitions

Indigenous Program Associate, Plimoth Patuxet Museums, Plymouth, MA

Exhibits Preparator, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

Restructuring Family at MMCA

One of the best parts of living in an increasingly digitized era is the greater access to things we may never otherwise encounter. For me, that means seeing museums and exhibits across the globe that were, at one point, completely out of reach. One such museum is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in South Korea, the country’s only national art museum. MMCA boasts a large collection of art spanning an even larger time period and I recently got to see some of this art through a virtual exhibit on Google Arts & Culture titled, “Looking for Another Family.” 

MMCA Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art / Hyunjun Mihn + mp_art  architects | ArchDaily

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea, 2013

“Looking for Another Family” restructures the term and concept of family through “the sense of social solidarity.” In three parts beautifully framed within Google Arts & Culture’s digital platform, this exhibit considers 1) the ideal concept of family as the regulation and emotional turbulence, 2) how the body and mind are restricted within a society, and 3) how viewers can continue to discuss the issues raised by the artworks. One of my favorite pieces in the collection is Tandia Permadi’s Letter to Nan, which is a visual documentation of Permadi’s exploration with identity, sexuality, and abuse. Permadi draws on his childhood and his family’s strict adherence to the Indonesian belief that having a boy as your first born child is bad luck. Through this, Permadi discusses how his family treated him as a girl and how this blurred line between gender and identity affected his upbringing. Permadi’s story is not the only one to tackle difficult subjects like this; in fact, most of the works displayed in “Looking for Another Family” challenge longstanding beliefs about gender, sexuality, and the roles we play in society and family.

Letter to Nan - Tandia Permadi — Google Arts & Culture

Letter to Nan, Tandia Permadi, 2020

Though I was engaged with the works here, it is easy to see how others may be turned away from the heaviness and overwhelming nature of the subject. “Looking for Another Family” is intentionally uncomfortable, it challenges beliefs and standards that many of us have grown up with and accepted as true; so, of course we would be uncomfortable in a space that seems to tell us otherwise. But, how do we as educators bridge that discomfort? How do we tell visitors that it’s okay to be uncomfortable, confused, or even unhappy with what they’re seeing? In my past experiences working with difficult subjects, I’ve found that I and many other museum educators were wildly unprepared to handle not just the complex discussions, but also the complex emotions and stories that visitors carry with them into these exhibits. Perhaps there is no easy answer, no one-size-fits-all solution – as educators, we remember that no two visitors are alike and no two visitors share the same experiences. Perhaps the best approach is the honest one, the approach that these artists have taken in being vulnerable and sharing their vulnerabilities with audiences. Some of my most endearing, memorable museum experiences have stemmed from speaking with staff who breach the fancy, elevated talk and instead share their own personal stories and thoughts, bringing their feelings and experiences into the conversation. By being vulnerable with our visitors, educators can make visitors feel comfortable being vulnerable with us. 

“Looking for Another Family” is, in one sense, all about vulnerability; it’s about breaking molds that traditionally made us feel safe and stepping into new roles in society. Though Google Arts & Culture doesn’t currently facilitate further educational experiences with the exhibit online, it is still a fascinating way to engage with the works at MMCA. The digitized exhibit format also encourages visitors and viewers to proceed through the space at a rate that’s comfortable for them. You can experience this for yourself here and learn more about MMCA here.

Talking about grief with color

I’ve recently fallen in love with the New York Time’s Close Read series, a digital exploration of a select number of works that serves as a fantastic introduction to interpretation and, well, close reading. The format itself is very user friendly and as someone who has little professional training in the arts, the information feels comfortable and approachable, not at all didactic or overly wordy. As I’ve been parsing through this series, I came across one that has been sitting in my mind all weekend.

MCA - Collection: In Memory of My Feelings - Frank O'Hara

In Memory of My Feelings – Frank O’Hara (1961)

“How a Gray Painting Can Break Your Heart” by Jason Farago is an in-depth exploration of Jasper Johns’s “In Memory of My Feelings – Frank O’Hara.” My immediate impression of the piece was underwhelming and frankly, I thought it was another abstract piece of art that would be far out of reach for me. “In Memory of My Feelings” is a gray painting; it is literally 99% gray and even the physical attachments of wire and spoon and fork are all gray. So, to me, not only was this piece at first glance dull, but it was also rather depressing. However, Farago explores this color and its meaning within the piece beautifully using Close Read‘s digital format. Farago’s narration is accompanied by a smooth transition between zoomed-in shots of specific pieces of the work and larger holistic views of the entire canvas.

This easy access is important for both visitors and educators who may not be entirely familiar with Jasper Johns and his gestural paintings. Not only do we get Farago’s interpretation of what these specific aspects of the piece mean, but we also get a refined look at the piece as a whole; we can pick up on subtle nuances in the gray that our untrained eyes may have otherwise missed. For me, I didn’t even pick up on the presence of any words on the canvas, but Farago highlights the importance of the raised “A DEAD MAN” lettering (and even goes so far as to give reference points for those like me who still struggled to find the phrase in the gray). 

“A DEAD MAN”

“In Memory of My Feelings” is a difficult piece; it is heavy, it is grieving, and it is at times frustratingly vague. As educators, we are often faced with these difficult works and the even more difficult conversations that accompany them. Farago’s method of interpretation here can be a useful tool for educators looking for a way to facilitate these conversations because he allows the viewers and readers to digest the piece at their own rate while considering their own thoughts and feelings. He constantly comes back to the thematic color gray as a grounding piece that we can latch onto and expands each interpretation of an idea from this color gray. I am fascinated by this method for talking about grief, utilizing something as universal as color to connect audiences to a concept that is uncomfortable, yet well-known today. And I feel that there is even more to be learned from Farago’s use of the New York Time’s Close Read format; it is an excellent way of getting viewers up close and personal with these important colors and ideas on canvas, especially in an age where being up close and personal is not always possible.

You can experience Farago’s interpretation of “In Memory of My Feelings” here and visit the Close Read series here.

Weekly Job Roundup

Check out the latest job opportunities and internships below:

Administration

Collections

Development

Education

Exhibition

Internships

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