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What is co-curation?

In late March, the Museum and several community partners welcomed our newest co-curators: five Marshallese-American high school students from Enid, Oklahoma. The students will help us produce a small Marshall Islands exhibition in our Pacific co-curation gallery, which will be installed and open to the public in 2020.

Before the students began their busy two-day introduction to the museum world and exhibits development, a powhiri, or formal welcoming ceremony, was held on the marae. Museum staff, Native American community partners, Philippines co-curators and many of Chicago’s Pacific community were in attendance to greet the students.

Speakers included Conrad White, representing the Maori of Tokomaru Bay; Lanialoha Lee, representing Chicago’s Pacific Islander community; Heather Miller of Chicago’s American Indian Center; and Lani Chan, a long time member of the Museum’s Filipino-American co-curation team. Speaking on behalf of Enid atoll were students John Sibok and Ezola Hong, Enid High School Assistant Principal Cindy Black, and Enid Marshallese community leader Terry Mote.

Following the ceremony and a tour of the current Pacific Halls, exhibition developers Ryan Schuessler and Monisa Ahmed guided the students in brainstorming sessions and activities to help identify goals and themes for the exhibition. The guests were also able to view the ~150 piece Marshallese collection in storage, sparking inspiration for the content of the show.

In April, Regenstein Pacific collections manager Chris Philipp will accompany the exhibits team back to Enid, where the group will continue to plan the exhibit, select objects, and hear feedback and ideas from the larger community. Philipp hopes the visit will represent a start of a deeper relationship between the Museum and the Marshallese people, both in the US and in the islands.

Gallery: Powhiri. All photos © John Weinstein 2019

On February 7, Dr. Christina Kreps (University of Denver) held a staff workshop entitled Appropriate Museology. Having given a public presentation of the talk the day before, Dr. Kreps ventured deeper into the topics of respectful collections care and language, decolonization of museum spaces, and the challenges faced by the Field and other institutions in the process of collaborative curation. Attendees included staff of the exhibitions, collections, curatorial, and conservation departments. The wharenui proved an apt and poignant place to hold this discussion, which evokes strong feelings in descendent communities and collections caretakers alike.

(L-R) Dr. Christina Kreps and Dr. Alaka Wali, curator of North American collections, lead a discussion in the wharenui.

FM staff participate in Dr. Kreps' discussion in the wharenui. Photo by Susan Neill.

Our co-curation gallery has been updated for 2019. The Museum’s Filipino-American community has chosen a new selection of materials for the Philippines case, including tattoo-related implements and an example of the Tagbanwa writing system. Both traditional tattooing and this writing system are experiencing something of a modern resurgence; our co-curators wanted to connect historical objects with contemporary interests in the Philippines.

Visitors can also see the second of our contemporary Fijian barkcloth wedding dresses (the other occupied this space last year.) Purchased by collections manager Chris Philipp in 2015, both dresses were made by Mere K. Morris, a dressmaker in Suva, Fiji. The barkcloth, known as masi, is stencilled with traditional designs on a contemporary style dress.

Distance can sometimes be a challenge in our efforts to collaborate with our partners in the Pacific, but exhibitions developer Ryan Schussler managed to work with a group of Kiribati and Kiribati-Americans via Facebook on our first co-curated Kiribati case. Ryan shared photos of the collection and asked a few questions of the Facebook group, who then discussed and made decisions about how they wished to represent their islands in the Field Museum. The case features everyday objects from Kiribati life in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as coconut fiber armor and a shark tooth trident meant for combat. The labels, and [coming soon] digital rails contain information and thoughts from our Kiribati co-curators.

A Facebook group enabled a small community of Kiribati-Americans to co-curate a case in the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific

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