Session 5B: Social Justice in Praxis: Arts, Communities and Institutional Change

Session 5B

Social Justice in Praxis: Arts, Communities and Institutional Change
4.22.2017 | 10:55a-12:10p | Laurel Hall 110

Artists and Cultural workers have pushed us to see social justice in new forms. In this session, identity, arts, and community will collide to examine how more dynamic understandings of social justice and inclusion can be understood in museum pedagogy and artistic works.

Moderator: Cynthia Melendez, MFA (Latina/o and Latin American Studies; UCONN)

Participant Abstracts

Pilar Garrett (Latin American and Caribbean Studies; New York University)
Critical Museum Pedagogy and Social Action in Brazilian Museums:
A Strategy for Anti-racist Confrontation

Dialogue, collaboration, and confrontation lay fundamental to critical museum pedagogy and new museum theory. Indeed, they form the basis for contemporary scholarly understandings of the role of the museum in the twenty-first century. The purpose of my paper is thus to explore these presently-circulating theories in order to question how critical museum pedagogy may be of utility in confronting Brazil’s deeply embedded racial inequality. My central aim is to address Brazil’s racial situation as it stands currently and present critical museum pedagogy- or rather, purpose-based, people-centered, collaborative museum pedagogy- as fundamental to the deconstruction of Brazil’s systemically naturalized racial hierarchies. Essentially, I endeavor to expose the political possibilities and social responsibilities of the twenty-first-century Brazilian museum through historicizing Brazil’s present racial situation and proposing a model for a critically-engaged institutional solution. In lieu of contemporary local/global debates, and as museum educator Mike Murawski has so clearly enunciated, the time for museums to go to work is now. Brazilian museums must begin to reformulate under an ethos of social action (Murawski, 2016).
To this end, my paper stands within present interdisciplinary discussions on the social responsibility of the twenty-first-century museum. Moreover, I extend these discussions to explore Brazil’s racialized and racist systems of sociocultural understanding and the potential place of Brazilian museum institutions in processes of anti-racist confrontation. I therefore place my work within a broader conceptual understanding of the contemporary museum space as a highly important “contact zone,” or- to use museum educator/activist Monica Montgomery’s term- a politicized “third space” for discussion, contestation, and solution (Clifford, 1997; Montgomery, 2015). Further, I refer to a growing literature within contemporary Brazilian Studies that addresses the historical complexities of Brazil’s unique racial/racist structures. I consequently work to marry these conversations in order to argue that critical, action-based museum pedagogy is integral to publicly combating Brazil’s racialized social inequality. As an emerging museum professional, my own academic and career objectives move precisely in this direction. We must begin to consider the role of the museum for the twenty-first century. Critical resistance must happen today.

Rebecca Lowell (Art History; Tufts University)
Expressed in an Epithet:
The Invention of Identity in the Work of Eastern Woodlands Artist Dennis Cusick

Despite few attributable works on paper made in the first quarter of the nineteenth century by Native American artists in the Northeast, this presentation attempts to shed light on the changing notions of identity during a tumultuous period of time as seen in pictorial assertions of self (specifically through the depiction of Native American subjects) in two-dimensional work produced by Iroquois artists. My examination of watercolors by Iroquois artist Dennis Cusick made to adorn a collection box for the United Foreign Mission Society calls for a holistic approach, particularly looking at Iroquois history, regional artistic practices, and missionary interventions in the years leading up to the production of the box. I hope to contribute to the understanding Cusick’s art through identifying what I believe to be a strategic constellation of visual language employed by Native American artists working in two-dimensional media at this turning point of self-representation.

Lauren Cross (Social – Wadsworth Antheneum)