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.
“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.