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This content is taken from the National Maritime Museum's online course, Confronting Captain Cook: Memorialisation in museums and public spaces. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds I think the way the artists work with museums is they go through a process of investigating the presented narratives. The museum will often create narratives based on their collections and they’ll be able to present various stories, but not necessarily all the stories. And I think what’s interesting about the way the artist’s work is artists will particularly look at what’s not there. And I think the opportunity that artists bring to the museum context is to do with the fact that they are not governed by a broad social agenda in a more formal sense. That might be their area of interest, but they’re not in a position to have a particular voice or a particular style.

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds And it creates a freedom, in some regards, for the museum doesn’t necessarily have access to because their remit is quite broad around how they should engage the public. And artists have a huge amount of freedom in terms of how they interpret things, what area they want to focus on, how they want that story or narrative to be perceived or represented. So I was artist in residence here at the National Maritime Museum in 2013, I think it was. My brief was rethinking museums, art, and empire. I was in a position where I could think about the kind of questions I wanted to ask the public around the museum’s collection. So that manifested as me thinking a lot about power.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds So this idea of who has the power? Who is the person with the power or the country with the power or the people with the power? The people that have the reigns, I guess, on what gets told. And thinking about what hadn’t been told in relation to the museum’s collection, which was a lot to do with the people that were colonised, the people that became part of the empire, and how their voice hadn’t been included in the broader narrative of the history of the empire. And so subsequently, the museum’s collections historically tend to tell the story of the people that have the power.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 seconds And also to think about when there isn’t a document necessarily of those other voices, how you then produce something creatively that can allude to suggest what those other experiences might have been. So there’s a consultation, there’s a collective thinking experience that happens. And that can happen without an artist. But I think the difference between the way that the museum develops that way of working and an artist developing that way of working is the artist is always thinking through what that can become visually, in some way.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds It’s an interpretation and that creates lots of room for new interpretation, whereas when you have an object that has a provenance and a particular history attached to it, it’s the role of the museum to make that history clear. Whereas when an artist comes in and reinterprets that work, everybody’s clear that there’s all sorts of room for different perspectives on that object. And some of them might be factual and some of them might not be factual. Some of them might be suggestions of something that are based in fact, but not necessarily the actual fact. But what happens with that is it gives people room to think about all the potential stories that are attached to that object.

Artists interview

In this video Maria Amidu discusses some of the ways artists and museums can work together to explore hidden histories and different perspectives.

Maria was Artist in residence at the National Maritime Museum in 2013 and one of the managers of the Travellers’ Tails project, which explored colonial legacies and the paintings of the Kangaroo and Dingo by George Stubbs. You saw a link to the project in 3.2 The rise and rise of Joseph Banks. You can follow it again here by going to See also below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Confronting Captain Cook: Memorialisation in museums and public spaces

National Maritime Museum