Skip to main content

Curating Difficult Histories: Museums, Exhibitions, Art Activism


Module description

In an increasingly conflict-ridden world, museums and exhibitions have played a vital part in opening up debate about how to represent events that many consider to be unrepresentable crimes against humanity. Genocide, the Holocaust, Slavery and Apartheid have all been explored under the exhibitionary lens. Artists and curators working in tandem with museums have sought to challenge received histories and tell the stories from multiple viewpoints with more or less success. On this module you will be encouraged to reflect on the ethical and political implications of these experiments.

This module moves away from the usual focus on Euro-American conceptions of history and heritage to enable you to study the legacy of colonialism in its postcolonial contexts - in Africa itself.

Two events in recent world history have provoked the lion’s share of debate about how to produce exhibitions which both honour the victims and survivors while informing the next generation: the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide and the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The Holocaust museums and memorials in Berlin and the US and site-specific museums in South Africa have led the field in museum developments around such contested histories. The core of the course builds on these examples to explore broader themes such as: the prison as heritage site; the display and return of human remains; urban gentrification and the contested heritage of forced removals; iconoclasm and the making and breaking of monuments; creating ‘community’ through photographs (eg Zanele Muholi, David Goldblatt, Gideon Mendel); health and heritage - the HIV visual campaigns.

You will be able to pursue individual research interests in the option essay and in your seminar presentations, with scope to explore examples beyond those studied in the course. The module is taught through a combination of illustrated seminar presentations and discussions of set readings together with film and video extracts.