Art from Abya Yala and the museum

The questions addressed to ethnographic museums over their holding objects from specific cultural traditions tend to center around material heritage. The explanation offered from the side of the museum is as follows: The role of the museum nowadays is no longer the role of the early ethnographic museum. The role of the museum is to guard the cultural heritage of all artifacts they keep. The museum is in the best capacity to maintain these cultural artifacts and can continue to collect them safely for future generations. While in some cases it can be acknowledged that there was an expropriation taking place and the mis-appropriation of a patrimony, and certain holdings have been returned (specially human rests), as a general rule the museums can not return objects to their original holders. Through these arguments, the possibility of material reparations is presented as impossible, rendering the demand for the return of different pieces and artworks as ungrounded. Furthermore, this conversation is presented not as a political conversation but as stemming from reflection on worlds cultures, and heritage.

As important as this conversation is, material reparation is not the main reparation needed. These cultural artifacts have been for centuries wrongly understood, read, interpreted, classified, and studied. The museum keeps these works within the realm of minor, ethnical arts outside of what would be a world art history. The analysis of these works, by how they are analyzed them and by how meaning is attributed to them, reveals less about the works or about the complexity of these human groups and peoples than of the imagination of the researchers. The same institution that continues to mistreat their history, cannot repair the wrongs, and reveal their true function, and meaning.

The human groups that produced in their lifespan both figurative art and abstract art do not deserve to be placed anachronically in an anterior stage of art, in a sphere of 'art' between quotation marks. Regarding their production as a craft was an inaccurate mislabeling and a mark of colonialism in art and art history. These works and these pieces with all their complexities and with all its inscrutability are arts on their own. They relate to specific language systems and cosmovisions and several of them hold ex-centric metaphysical ruminations.(1)
Any ethnographic museum program that seeks to 'switch' this perspective should start with this. The fortunes and the capitals behind these collections and the curators they assigned have for long failed to understand this.

Precolumbian aesthetics and its manifolded levels and futuristic representations are in need for a deep revision, or better said a new foundational moment that understands their aesthetics and the layers of possible reading they enclose.


Notes:
(1)  I can think of two examples for this that relate to Quechua speakers. For once, the notion of time of space and being one dimension is present in this culture and is evident in terms as Pacha. Similarly occurs with the space temporality relation in regards to the past and the future. For occidental cultures we go towards the future, while we leave our past behind out backs, turning around to face the past when seeking to remember. In this context the peculiarity of Walter Benjamin's angel of history is that it goes to the past facing it with its back to the future. Now, in Quechua, one is always facing the past because that is all we can know, what we have lived, can remember and are therefore constantly facing, we go with out back to our future because the future is unknown to us.


27.01.2015