My first memory of museums was of Nottingham Castle where my father took me as a child at weekends. Later, as a graduate student, I did much of my research and writing in the library of the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford and it was there that I applied for my first professional position as a research assistant in the Ethnography Department of the British Museum (Museum of Mankind) at Burlington Gardens.
Since leaving the British Museum in 1991 , increasingly attracted by project work, I have held full-time, permanent curatorial and/ or managerial positions at the Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museums, Brighton, the Horniman Museum, London, and most recently at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA), Vancouver. I have been visiting fellow / professor at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, and have served on the international advisory committees for the development of the Humboldt Forum, Berlin and the Asia Cultural Centre, Gwangju, Republic of South Korea.
I have worked in national, university and municipal museums, not only as a curator, but on major capital renewal schemes, and on projects and committees focused on organizational change and strategic planning and leadership.
Critical Museology and Museum Organization
Critical museology is not only an essential intellectual tool to better understand museums, related exhibitionary institutions, fields of patrimony and counter patrimonies, and the global and local flows and conditions in which they are embedded, but is crucial also for developing new exhibition genres, telling untold stories, rearticulating knowledge systems for public distribution, reimagining organizational and management structures, and repurposing museums and galleries in line with multicultural and intercultural communities and states.
The organization of museums raises questions about their relationship to education, universities, and multiculturalism and the future of the humanities. If anthropology is able to provide a framework for understanding the “here and now” of historical, as well as geographically removed cultures, then could it not also provide a new disciplinary architecture for the humanities as a whole?... Given the processes of Indigenization and increasing cultural diversity, might not the humanities be better served by museums instead of university faculties?
Perhaps among the most influential of the twenty-one exhibitions I have curated or co-curated were African Worlds (Horniman Museum 1999-2016), the first permanent gallery on Africa and its contribution to world civilization in the United Kingdom; Fetishism (Southbank Touring Exhibitions 1995); an exhibition that deconstructed the successive use of the category in 19th-20th century anthropology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, commodity consumption, and late 20th-century European club culture; and Epic, Dream, Satire. Puppet Theatre (Brighton Museum 1991-1992), that focused on animation and the play of ambiguity between the inert and the animate world. I have curated seven artist shows including Shirley Chubb (Brighton 1995), Sonia Boyce (Brighton 1995). Godfried Donker (Horniman Museum 1998), Osi Audu (Horniman museum 1997).
Since arriving in Canada in 2004, I have curated Luminescence. The Silver of Peru (MOA 2012), on light in pre and post-Columbian Indigenous religious narratives, art and ritual, and Heaven, Hell and Somewhere In-Between. Portuguese Popular Art (MOA 2015), on folk art, politics, and national identity.
Is There a Canadian Museology?
Keynote Address delivered at the 2021 Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Museum Association
A unique Canadian school of museology is growing from Indigenous nations and the implications of museums accepting their diplomatic protocols, especially those around the significance of object-entities and their care and repatriation.