By Kiyanna Noel
Art is a way of expression and remembrance. When we think of different centuries and time periods, the types of art vary and change drastically.
However, when it comes to displaying pieces of art and the importation of art where does society draw the line?
Associate Professor of Political Science Daniel Lake hosted a panelist discussion about art history called Who Owns The Past May 3 in Yokum 205. The panelists were Museum Director Tonya Cribb, Professor Emerita of Art Karen Blough, Assistant Professor of Archaeology Justin Lowry and activist for Mohawk people Emily Kasennisaks Cecilia Stacey.
The discussion started with Cribb explaining the history of museums. Cribb’s presentation showed images of how museums came about and how they modified as time went on.
Cribb’s elaboration was made to put the museum profession into perspective and show the different laws associated with art expression and protection.
Following Cribb’s presentation, Blough spoke about how art keeps us connected, but at what cost is it of importance for museums to hold on to art and different societal artifacts.
“It’s important to understand that most art, while it may be beautiful to look at, was not created as an object whose primary purpose was aesthetic. In fact, art from cultures as diverse as, say, Greece in the fifth century B.C.E., and beneath in the 16th century of the Common Era, reflects a complex set of societal circumstances involving power structures, religious beliefs of institutions,” said Blough. “And so while their visual, intellectual and emotional appeal is often universal. One argument that is sometimes asserted against repatriation for keys aren’t objects are vehicles of communication about cultural values of specific places, and the people who live there. And when they fulfill this function particularly well, people develop strong attachments to them, they become essential in the literal sense of the word essential components of cultural identity. Problems can arise when such objects are removed from their original context and displayed elsewhere in the inauthentic environment. That is the museum”
After Blough explained this concept of the meaning of art, Lowry explained the archaeological side of art and exhibitions.
“Part of one of the reasons why I think what we do with these objects about understanding humanities through the physical remainders of society, part of the reasons why it’s important I think fundamentally important is because it tells the stories of the voiceless.”
Understanding that these pieces are more than just objects to cultures, but remembering the history of them is what makes them significant. Lowry explained that many of these artifacts are seen as “trash” initially and that the value itself comes from the people connected to it.
“The objects themselves carry no inherent value. It’s like what Karen was talking about earlier, the inherent value is in their context, in how they fit into lives and what they tells about who humans are and what they are and what they mean,” Lowry said.
The concept of museums holding on to art pieces and artifacts that belong to different nations is becoming increasingly controversial. Many people have started to question the motives of museums and nations who are withholding priceless parts of other countries’ history.
Lowry dissected the arguments of why Western European countries and the United States may or may not want to keep these pieces in their collections. He explained that the concept of having these pieces for educational purposes is outdated and how these pieces create a sense of greed.
“It’s really become a slideshow of objects rather than an understanding of fundamental objects, ” Lowry said.
An open minded conversation was the hopeful solution discussed by the panelists. While a conversation may bring about some type of conclusion, the resentment may not be resolved in one sitting about why these countries need these artifacts and timely pieces.
“The seed has been planted, but we need to feed it for it to grow,” said Stacey. “So I think we all understand to some degree about the complications, the unethical acts and behaviors that are going on and unless we foster some kind of change, it’s just going to stay as a seed. ”