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Virtual: ‘The Museum’s Incarceration of Indigenous Life’ with Dylan Robinson
February 10, 2021 at 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
The Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH) returns in 2021 with new IAH Zoom Talks, the virtual talk series featuring discussions during the COVID-19 crisis. Talks will either be focused on a particular scholar and topic relevant to the many unprecedented issues related to COVID-19, or it will highlight new works spurred by or created during the pandemic.
On February 10 at 2:00 p.m., Dylan Robison will lecture on “thá:ytset: shxwelí li te shxwelítemelh xíts’etáwtxw / The Museum’s Incarceration of Indigenous Life.” Dylan Robinson is a xwélmexw (Stó:lō/Skwah) artist and writer, and the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts at Queen’s University.
Increasingly, museums display Indigenous material culture in “open storage”, a form of storage that allows the public to have greater access to their collections. Yet open storage display does not merely represent a new level of accessibility. Like other forms of museum display, it renders Indigenous life contained therein into objects, things to be seen but not touched. Things to be appreciated and studied. Alongside the life of these Indigenous ancestors who take material form, thousands of Indigenous songs are similarly confined in museums on wax cylinder recordings, reel-to-reel tape and various electronic formats. These songs also hold life, but of different kinds to that of their material cousins. For Indigenous people, experiencing these systems of display and storage are often traumatic because of the ways in which they maintain the separation of kinship at the heart of settler colonialism. To re-assess the role of the museum as a place that confines life is to put into question the museum’s relationship to incarceration. If the museum is a carceral space, how then might we define repatriation in relation to practices of “re-entry” and the reconnection of kinship? In what ways might the context of prison abolition apply to the museum?
Robinson’s current research focuses on the reconnection of Indigenous songs held by museums with communities who were prohibited by law to sing these songs as part of the Canadian Government’s Indian Act from 1882‒1951. Robinson’s publications include the edited volume “Music and Modernity Among Indigenous Peoples of North America” (2019) and his recent monograph “Hungry Listening,” on settler colonial and Indigenous forms of listening. Register for access to this upcoming discussion.