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Recontextualizing the George Brown Collection through creative ceramics

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The George Brown Collection of ethnographic objects and some natural history specimens has a contested and complex history. Accumulated in the latter half of the nineteenth century by Brown while he was a Methodist missionary in Oceania, it has had a number of ‘homes’, exercising the endeavours of a variety of groups and individuals. In 1986, the majority of the collection was controversially sold by Newcastle University to the National Museum of Ethnology (NME), Osaka, Japan.

This presentation will discuss the author’s investigation of the collection’s status and role at its current location in Osaka undertaken during a placement at the NME in 2013. To augment this research, elements of the collection which, for various reasons, remain in UK institutions were also traced in order to compare and contrast respective approaches to community engagement and display. Between 2013 and 2015, the author made a new body of ceramic artwork which attempted to materialize the convoluted interrelationships between the collection and its various communities through time and space.

It will be argued that collaborations between museums and artists have the potential to ‘rejuvenate’ such dispersed collections by creating new contexts where person-object relations can be initiated. Practice-led approaches can re-examine marginalized collections by harnessing the power of objects – both old and new – to captivate and engage.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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