A rendering of Sarah Bartmann
The readings this week provided us with some very different viewpoints examining the issue of owning and repatriating cultural objects. Nokomis Paiz told a personal story in which she acted as the link between an American Indian tribe and the museum. This article was troubling because Paiz revealed a darker side to a relationship that seemed so virtuous. It seemed very obvious that the original creators should be consulted when museums are conserving these objects, however Paiz felt that this experience was very uncomfortable. "and yet there (the objects) are, thousands of miles away from the people who created them, their people who may not know that they are there or even exist." Paiz seemed to feel two strong and conflicting tugs from both her ancestors and her profession. Her internal conflicts were fueled by beliefs similar to the objectives that the Banjilaka Aboriginal Centre at the Melbourne Museum has set forth. Their stated goal is to: "increase visitors understanding of Australian Indigenous rights, recognition, and perspectives." Paiz, however, seems to feel that this goal is not possible when these artifacts are housed in a museum instead of being returned to their original community. The Aboriginal Centre has three main goals in attempt to counter this issue: 1. Aboriginal involvement is essential. 2. The object is equally as important as the information it represents and contains. 3. All conservation efforts must adhere to the cultural requirements expressed by the native consults. While these ideas seem very good, are they truly possible? Can an object that was once used and loved continue to convey its information if it is sitting in a museum? Can the Aboriginal people ever be as 'involved' as they would like to be?
Christopher Pala and Jatti Bredekamp bring a new conflict to the table: human remains. I can easily understand the museums arguments for owning and displaying cultural artifacts. A museum is a place of knowledge and discovery and their main objective is to educate the masses. However, a whole new set of morals is brought into play when you are displaying what remains of a person. The case of Sarah Bartmann is a disheartening tale of the Western world. After being displayed as an African novelty her entire life, her remains were also used for display after her death. Where do the rights of a human come into play? Does the educational aspect of displaying human remains ever override the moral complications? To whom should remains be returned if no family remains? Is burial truly 'better' than being used for science if no one has a claim to the remains? The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) was formulated to attempt to answer some of these questions about graves in Honolulu. Is there any way that a bill can determine the moral implications and arguments surrounding a human being?