I started reading the World War Two history-of-war-curation book, “Monuments Men” for my end of semester choice. I wasn’t sure at first how interested I would be in the book, as World War Two is of great interest to me, but art curation hasn’t ever been. I’ve been so far pleasantly surprised by two aspects of the book, one, that the narrative style is very readable and has very well maintained my interest, even though details that are more on the dry side. The other aspect that has pleasantly surprised me is the connection that the book makes to the themes and topics that we have discussed in class, especially cultural studies and curation. The book centers around the group of men who were very quickly and abruptly given the task of trying to preserve the works of arts, important monuments, and other items of cultural importance throughout Europe and North Africa during the gradual push into Germany starting in 1942. The book gives a good deal of background to begin with, highlighting the need for preserving these items and places to begin with because of Adolf Hitler’s desire to procure an art collection for himself that would rival any other in the world. This was one reason for the creation of the “Monuments Men”, to keep many works of art from falling into Hitler’s hands. Another reason was because the Allied high command was faced with the problem of often having to choose between sacrificing their own men and sacrificing great Western monuments, especially in Italy where countless abbeys and Roman ruins existed. The book very well presents the dilemmas, trials, and struggles that the “Monuments Men” went through in their attempts at preservation.
I explained in class today that I was going to be focusing on Mark Dion’s Cabinet of Curiosities and just looked up more information on what that whole thing is. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a cabinet of curiosities was also called a cabinet of wonder or wunderkrammer. This was a place, or more specifically, a piece of furniture with several different compartments where people would exhibit precious or bizarre objects, artefacts and specimens aka CURIOSITIES. This was developed during the Renaissance among kings and wealthy rulers who used them to show power as well as as resources for research material of scholars and teaching materials. In regards to teaching, these installations were motivated by a kind of encyclopedic ambition; to create miniature versions of the universe, or to depict microcosms of the world. Capturing the world and then displaying it, storing it in nothing bigger than a single room or a piece of furniture, implied making a selection and inevitably reducing reality, the surrounding existent things, to the essential (rather than being exhaustive). During these times people believed that nature unveiled all its beauty, richness and fascinating complexity through its irregularities, anomalies, freaks and monsters, specimens and objects arousing astonishment. They wanted to show the different ways of classification by blurring the frontiers between the spheres of art, nature and science (as Newcomb mentioned in class).
Mark Dion arranges the objects into nine compartments or collections: The Underworld, The Sea, The Air, The Earth, Humans, Knowledge, Time, Vision and History. The fact that each oh these nine collections is composed of objects coming from different collections of the museum highlights the arbitrary and subjective character of the choices made by the curators when preparing their exhibitions. By making these categories and providing the visitors with “predigested information”, which includes captions, info sheets, audio guides etc, normal museums usually distract the viewers attention away from the objects and dont make them questions anything. IN this case, everything is a curiosity and a constant search for meaning.
This also made me have an idea that I will make my own cabinet of curiosities for the final project- stay tuned!
Awad Ibrahim is an associate professor at the Faculty of Education of the University of Ottawa. He used to teach for more than five years in Education and American Culture Studies Program at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. He is a doctoral graduate of the University of Toronto and teaches and is published in the areas of Hip-Hop studies; Black pop culture; minority adolescents; racially and linguistically mediated identities; antiracism and critical multiculturalism; applied socio-linguistics and cultural studies. Because I am doing my final paper on Hip Hop and education.
Awad has been one of the biggest sources in finding information and research on the subject. He has published widely and explored the connections between race, language, globalization, culture and the politics of identity, focusing on the impact of Black popular culture on young people. He also focuses a lot on language and the dialogic relation between continental and diasporic African identities. He was recently awarded (with Dr. Alden Craddock) over one million dollars by Higher Education for Development (USAID/MEPI) to conduct research in civic education in Morocco and Lebanon, which is a continuation to his previous work in Kenya and South Africa dealing with civic education and linking schooling with indigenous knowledge. Originally from the Sudan, he is fluent in seven languages, including Arabic, English, French and Italian. I think this dude is really knowledgeable and inspirational. We need more people like him doing some real work in the world that can really help make a difference in peoples lives, specifically children and minorities.
Lois Lowry’s novel Number the Stars is a work of historical fiction set in Denmark during the time of the Nazi occupation. The book is narrated from the perspective of ten year old Annemarie and discusses her experiences as well as those of her friends who were affected by the German soldiers during their time in Denmark. At first I was having a difficult time making connections with the story’s title in regards to the theme of curating. There are only a few times in the novel in which stars make a presence. Annemarie holds on to her best friend’s–Ellen–necklace until the end of the war. The necklace is a pendant with the “Star of David.” This star is a central symbol in the Jewish tradition but in the novel it also represents the necessity for the Jews to hide their religion. The fact that Annemarie vows to hold onto the necklace until Ellen’s return from Sweden may also mean that the star resembles Annemarie’s devotion to her friend, and her faith. Stars also make an appearance in the psalm that Peter Neilsen reads before leaving for safety in Sweden. In this sense the stars seem representative of Annemarie’s mentality of the hopeless vastness of life in light of all the things she has experienced. Although the protagonist’s situation is undoubtedly difficult, I felt another connection to the title “Number the Stars” could be the idea of “counting your blessings.” Annemarie definitely suffers losses and finds herself in the unfortunate, yet constant state of fear, but the connections she maintains to the good in life (though maybe less in comparison to the bad) are what allow her to prevail through the worst of circumstances with astounding faith and courage.
As I still sift through different western works of literature to determine what to include in my curated collection, I came across the 1968 novel True Grit by Charles Portis. This fairly straightforward novel was turned into a motion picture starring John Wayne the very next year, which actually gained Wayne the only Oscar he ever received. Because of the overshadowing of the novel by the film, I had never known that there actually was a novel; I thought the film was an original script.
I think I will probably end up adding this particular work to my collection, chiefly because of its influence. I don’t think there can be a lot of doubt that the western as a genre is on the decline in 21st century. Even film projects, such as last year’s Lone Ranger, have flopped at the box office, and the American Cowboy is becoming less an less of an archetypal constant in fiction. True Grit (as in the story, but not necessarily the novel) stands apart as a somewhat transcendent work, inspiring not only the 1969 John Wayne film, but also the contemporary Cohen brothers to rework their own version of the story in a successful 2010 film of the same title. The plot of the book and the adaptions centers around fairly traditional American ideals, such as justice, persistence, and endurance in the face of adversity. It may be that the quality of the storytelling has been enough to keep audiences engaged for nearly 45 years, and/or it could be that the plot qualities mentioned above have been able to continue to inspire audiences to keep reading/watching.
One contemporary cultural theorist that I don’t believe we spoke about at any point in class is Ziauddin Sardar, a Pakistan born and English raised scholar and author of over 30 books, mostly on cultural studies relating to Islam. As a believing Muslim, one of Sardar’s main focuses is on the future Islam. This is a particularly relevant topic to modern society, as a large shift is occurring in the populations of Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa to a potentially future Muslim majority. As the increase of Islam comes, so an increase in fundamentalist and extremist groups within the religion come as well. Though a Muslim, as a cultural studies theorist, Sardar is an advocate of multiculturalism. Because of this, some have categorized him into the camp of postmodern thinkers, but Sardar interestingly does not advocate postermodernism, thinking it a continuation of western philosophy, and imperialistic in its operation. In regards to Islam, Sardar takes a more modern approach to the Koran, the holy book of Islam, seeing it as useful and important to the faith, but not to be followed as strictly and literally as many Muslims would like it to be, interpreting in its own context, but also the context of today. In the context of the cultural studies of this class, Sardar represents a theorist who has applied many of the same constructs and ideas we have discussed, but to a demographic we have not discussed in great detail, but a a demographic we will experience more and more contact with and influence throughout the coming generations.
“IF THE FIRST DECADE of the second millennium will be remembered for the rise of the art fair, the decade before should definitely be remembered as the decade of biennials and, implicitly, the decade of curating.”
I found this quote at the beginning of an online article from the digital webpage for the Calarts School of Critical Studies. In this article the author, Nicola Trezzi, makes the argument that “the era of curators demands that we redefine the practice of curating as an art in its own right, with its own structure and language.” She furthers the assertion by also claiming that individuals graduating with a degree in Art History are perhaps the least qualified candidates for this “young science.” To support herself, Trezzi discusses how the educational process for art historians has deeply rooted them in a temporal rather than spatial perception of art. It is for this reason, she suggests, that some of the most successful curators (i.e. Jens Hoffmann, Francesco Bonami) have risen out of other disciplines (i.e. stage directing, set design, cultural sociology). Today, it is not enough to organize a collection (specifically, an art collection) based on the basic information of each selected piece. In order for the curation process to be considered successful, the curator must visually create an extension of the artist’s practice.
As I read this article I could not help but apply Trezzi’s insight to the website I used for my individual presentation. Upon revisiting the online version of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology I considered how the effectiveness of the archive would be influenced if it only organized the collections temporally. Although this particular aspect of the site is useful for the purposes of narrowing down the search for a particular garment from a particular time, if it was the only form of organization for the archive, I think I would have completely lost interest in the midst of my research. Fortunately, the digital presentations of specific exhibits at FIT managed to pick up the slack that this temporal method of organization imposed on the site. In complete contrast, these exhibitions portrayed the spatial or “successful” approach to curating as discussed in Trezzi’s article. The presentation of “Gothic Glamour” in the windows of haunted houses, behind the iron gates of a cemetery, or laying in the bed of a coffin are supportive examples of exactly what Trezzi’s article meant in regards to the extension of the artistic practice.