Thursday, April 20, 2006

About Censorship in the Museums

The students of museology at the Jyväskylä University (Finland) have arranged museological seminars annually for a decade. Seminars discuss central themes regarding museums. They are very well organised events with influential speakers representing usually different museums in Finland. Themes vary from year to year, but the viewpoint remains fresh and the approach modern. Many issues considered self-evident in the museum profession are thoroughly discussed in these seminars. This year's title was "Censored - Does Not Belong in the Museum".

Some of the central questions in the seminar were whether or not museums end up blocking out certain groups or issues by its collections and exhibitions policy. What kind of material is not accessed in the collections? Are there themes that cannot be displayed? Is it the task or duty of the museum professionals to act as the moral guardian of the society?

Difficult questions, no easy answers. Museums are expected objectivity, neutrality and equality, since they are 'representatives of science'. The information at a museum is considered 'right' by the public. This puts museums in an awkward position when it comes to issues that divide opinions, such as the marginal groups. If a museum chooses to display for example homosexuals (as the Central Museum of Labour did last summer), it is often considered as a statement supporting this group. Many museums are expected to work in harmony with their backgroud organisations or owners. It was also brought up that museums are often regarded as sacred places. Therefore the representations should only include material that is socially approved. This last argument applies also to some museum professionals: one speaker would not accession any material about sexuality in her museum because of the marginality of the subject (!).

Some speakers expressed that museums should not worry so much about what is or is not appropriate. It could also be regarded that it is the mission of museums to bring new subjects to the discussion and shake general beliefs and conceptions. A good example how a museum can present difficult subject and take part in discussion in the process, is the No Name Fever -exhibition about AIDS at the Museum of World Culture in Sweden.

The seminar was surprisingly widely noticed by some of the biggest newspapers of Finland. Of course, journalists are always on alert when freedom of speech is on the agenda. At any case, many museum professional got to present their valuable points and make the current issues in the museums more known
also to a wider audience.


Blogger Lisa said...

I can't believe that there is a museum professional out there picking and choosing which objects she would like to accession according to her beliefs. Extraordinary!

A really interesting post Nina. Thanks!

6:03 PM  
Blogger Nina Puurunen said...

Thank you for your comment, Lisa!

What bothered me about the seminar was the fact, that it never got up to a level of a serious consideration about why museum professionals make the choices they do. It is not merely the subjective view of a curator to make these choices, but there is a whole range of cultural codes and norms by which he or she acts (consciously or not), starting from the legislation. Adding a little more theoretical consideration about this would have been a great bonus.

1:27 AM  
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11:24 AM  
Blogger isabel victor said...

"Censored - Does Not Belong in the Museum".


Very good !

6:34 PM  
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