Who I am
I joined the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester in 2002 and am currently Programme Director of PhD Research Students, and Lecturer in Museum Communication and Education. Previously I spent 10 years developing formal learning programmes at Horniman Museum and 12 years organising arts programmes for Further Education in London.
My PhD (2000), in Museum Studies, took an ethnographic approach to examine creative learning at Horniman where I worked at the time. My academic route to the doctorate came from: an MA in Women’s Studies; MA in Modern Philosophy; Art Teachers Certificate with Art Therapy and a BA in Art and Design, as well as a 2year British Council/Mombusho travelling scholarship to Japan studying ceramics.
My recent publications include Learning at the Museum Frontiers: Identity, Race and Power (2009). The manuscript for Museums and Communities, Curators, Collections Collaboration, which I co-edited with Wayne Modest at the Tropen Museum Amsterdam, is now with the publishers, Berg, Oxford and scheduled for publication in February 2013. Museums and Communities has sixteen chapters from a range of international authors. Wayne and I have a preface introduction and I outline the theoretical field in an introductory chapter Collaborative Museums. My paper in this volume, ‘Creolizing the Museum: Humour, Art and Young People’, examines ways in which politically motivated artists work with humour to open the museum for audiences aged 15-24 years old. A concise list of recent publications and conference papers can be found at (http://www.le.ac.uk/ms/contactus/vivgolding.html).
There has long been a collaborative ethos to my research, which is intertwined with international museum practice. The ICOM-ICME (International Council of Museums - Museum Ethnographers Group) group elected me to the Board as Secretary (2010-2013) and Editor (2004-2007). In collaboration I remain intent on exploring the potential of the museum to challenge all forms of prejudice, particularly racism and sexism. To do this, at Horniman, I developed theoretically-grounded practice – ‘feminist-hermeneutics’ – by blending Black feminist thought with the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans Georg Gadamer (Gadamer 1981; Hill-Collins 1991; Lorde 1996). My current ‘glocal’ research is concerned with unravelling the extent to which ‘universal’ concepts such as human rights can be progressed in the museum at ‘local’ levels. I argue that ideas – of social justice, beauty, Truth for example – are attached to objects of world art housed in museums and embodied knowledge(s) can be provoked through engaging audiences in respectful dialogical exchange, creativity and multi-sensory ways of knowing. This involves paying serious attention to ‘Other’ ways of knowing, ordering and counting the senses for example. I am making a large claim that views the museum experience as a whole mind/body experience, which is affected by and can affect the individual and the social group. Ideally museum experiences can be transformative in the liminal spaces between the global and the local. In other words we can be touched and transformed, stereotype can be replaced with genuine intercultural understanding, but only to those who are open to future possibilities. This requires the museum to think about its social role, to work in more flexible ways, to listen actively, to create forum spaces – contact zones – for engagement (Silverman 2010; Clifford 1999).
I am co-investigator of the AHRC ‘Translating Cultures’ research network. In addition I am currently co-investigator on the AHRC ‘Faith and Place’ network and Principal Investigator on the Daiwa ‘Museum Literacies’ projects.
How my teaching / research relates to our ‘translating cultures’ research project
I have been teaching ‘museum communication, interpretation and education’ to Masters level students at the University of Leicester, School of Museum Studies, UK since 2002. My teaching arises out of my research interests, which have centred on museums, especially anthropology and art museums, since my first degree in art and design (ceramics and printed textiles). In traditional museums, curators have historically been speaking for ‘Others’, but indigenous groups around the world are increasingly demanding an active role in the displays and establishing new museum spaces. At these sites, material culture is exhibited – the museum poetics – and celebrated by means of catalogues, text panels and positioning in glass cases, or stored and hidden in the stores. My interest lies not only in examining past and present structures of power and control that underpins what is displayed, by whom and why – the museum politics that are always intertwined with the poetics – but also in exploring collaboratively ways in which a myriad of new voices and visibilities may be raised in the museum space and at a region I define as the frontiers, beyond the museum walls (Karp, Kreamer and Lavine 1991; Philip 1992).
Pedagogically I have long been influenced by Paolo Freire’s emancipatory work and my lectures draw extensively on my theory-driven museum practice at Horniman, which employed a Freirean perspective (Freire 1996). My teaching sessions involve looking critically at exhibitions of material culture in museums around the world and working creatively from my own Handling Collection of World Art. Students are engaged in activities including: critically considering different ‘guidelines’ and then writing a museum text panel for a particular target audience; developing a resource such as a museum trail to progress literacy for Key Stage 3 children (aged 11-14years old) or a multisensory activity for elders. Overall finding ways of working creatively with affect and emotion in museum learning programmes, while examining and problematizing museum hi/stories are key areas of interest for the Masters course. Facilitating questioning approaches, asking what counts as ‘knowledge’ in museums, for whom, who speaks, who is silenced, who listens, and why, these questions are critical for citizenship in the contemporary museum and the wider world.
In our collaborative teaching I shared a number of ideas internationally. In Grenada I offered my collaboration with the Cloth of Gold arts organization The Midnight Robber carnival project work of older children (13-14 years old), which demonstrates the impact of pedagogy developed at the frontiers between Horniman Museum and Malory Secondary School in London. In Washington I worked with the notion of object biographies and students developed their own worked in small groups developing a ‘narrative journey’ for an object from my own and Victoria Arana’s handling collections.
My particular research interest in the project
I relate to our ‘translating cultures’ research project through my research focus on museums, specifically the interpretation and representation of material culture and intangible heritage. I am interested in examining to what extent ‘Creolizing the Museum’ is possible around the globe, by which I mean building community and creating new ways of being and becoming, not simply observing and showing mixture, but creatively developing agency (Cohen and Toninato 2010).
Creolization, as I understand it, importantly derives from the forced transportation and dehumanization of people during the Transatlantic Slave trade. It seems necessary to look back, to take the terrible trade and enslavement as well as more recent forced migrations, as a starting point, yet not in ways that perpetuate the horror and prevent a movement to building a more positive future (Morrison 1984). From the museum perspective we need to acknowledge the trauma of loss to fully appreciate the ways survival prevented madness, how rupture led to the creation of something new – the rich perpetually changing mixtures – the cultures, music, and languages of our globalized world. Museums need to reflect on the imaginative affect of roots to which we cannot return, as well as the perpetual routes along which we travel under duress or joyfully, remembering the fear ‘travelling theory’ holds for some (hooks 1992).
I am interested in the nuanced challenge creolization presents to essentialism and binary thought, rejecting notions of purity and authenticity. Glissant’s concept of Relation, when people abandon notions of pure origins and become open to the creative possibilities of cultural contact, seems useful to the museum context. It disrupts notions of wholly dominant centre and totally weak periphery, powerfully pointing to interaction, the movement and migrations of peoples as mutually transformative. I envisage it offering a fresh space to articulate personal and collective identities, to forge connections and build community. Specifically I see creolization as a useful tool to developing language skills and literacy, to progressing critical thinking and citizenship.
While museums have traditionally served as treasure houses, sanctuaries and shrines of what and who is valued and disparaged, I argue for their creative potential as forum spaces for exchange and understanding. I hope this project may illuminate what museums can become.
Extract for reading
The extract I recommended that will indicate how my works resonates with the project is Chapter 2 ‘Space: The Museum and the New Spatial Politics of the Frontiers’, taken from my 2009 monograph Learning at the Museum Frontiers: Identity, Race and Power, Ashgate, Surrey: pp. 41-69
How my work relates to other network members
It seems to me that the keynotes I am drawing from my professional and academic history resonate with the research interests of all our TC partners. We are all concerned
- to develop emancipatory pedagogy;
- to challenge racism in all its changing and pernicious forms;
- to raise the voices of women and ‘Others’ silenced or ignored at our prestigious institutions of learning such as the university and museum;
- to facilitate multisensory creative routes to knowledge and literacy;
- to progress critical thought and questioning of taken-for-granted notions through a ‘conversational’ model of learning, which I built in dialogue over many years with Joan Anim-Addo, and that I term feminist-hermeneutics.
I share with our network a concern to address the socio-economic ‘uneveness’ of the world (Rhadakrishnan 2003). However, I am not a literary theorist, unlike the majority of our network. My texts are objects, text panels and special arrangements. I am the lone museum worker setting out on a journey together with colleagues who focus on literature my relationship with most of our network members is at an early stage. Nevertheless I already discern some connections that it would be interesting to develop, which I outline below.
Specific links with network members
Joan Anim-Addo and I have worked together in museums since the early 1990s. Her creative work operates at a number of frontier regions – temporal and spatial – where she articulates the complexity of meaning and meaning-making processes between disciplines, continents and languages. Anim-Addo’s history poems are part of my being, moving and thinking about museums around the world. For example I draw on her poetry, which as Audre Lorde notes ‘is not a luxury’, and Edward Said’s (19XX) notion of the contrapunctual, to explore affect and memory in museums during the 2007 UK bicentenary celebrations of the Abolition Act.
In ‘Talkie Mary’s Lucid Moment’ ideas of the body, birth, blood, life enslavement death, enduring feelings of loss and pain, as well as the healing of imaginative ‘coming back … coming’, point to new museum praxis for me. My thought here echoes in Toni Morrison’s interview with Paul Gilroy when she speaks of ‘… deliberately going mad’ to deal with the madness of historical social situations and contemporary legacies such as racism but without dwelling in places of oppression, which it seems to me, may best be achieved by harnessing the imagination to poetic affect (Anim-Addo 1998: 9 [8-9]). In other words I would like to see museums foregrounding creative effort to positively connect histories, geographies and peoples.
Anim-Addo’s poetry spans borders of history and testimony, England and the Caribbean, the creative and the academic, the universal and the local. To take another example ‘Grandmother’, which begins ‘My grandmother was a mermaid’ recounts a time of listening enraptured within a loving family embrace (61-62). This poem resonates not only in my own working class childhood experiences of the oral tradition – of sensual feeling, of safety, together with such a sweet smelling bulky body and the storytelling Irish voice that permitted imaginations to soar – but also with many people who have family around the globe. ‘My grandmother’ speaks of the ‘home-space’ between the tangible and the intangible, a concept I attempt to recreate in my professional work at the museum and university, and am currently revisiting through Iris Young (Young 1997: 134-164). Homi Bhabha’s theorizing of Freud’s ‘umheimlich’ or ‘unhomely’ that we see in Sethe’s house at 124 Bluestone Rd and too many museums (Bhabha 1995; Morrison 1988). Drawing on Morrison who shows us how a community of women can raise their voices in a ‘cape of sound’ to fight the unhomely, speaking from the museum perspective I argue that facilitating imaginative engagement with creative people outside of the profession can challenge the umhomely feeling certain audiences encounter when venturing beyond our institutional walls (Golding 2009: 56; Morrison 1988: 261). For while socio-economically disadvantaged communities, encouraged by free admittance and funded outreach effort during the years of Labour government, have featured in audience surveys, extended engagement with museums, curators and collections, remains limited, or as some would contend tokenistic and marginal (Lynch 2010). Museum power structures are largely unchanged despite more than ten years of Diversify funding and training to make the workforce more representative of the population; Black staff continue to occupy the lower levels of the museum hierarchy, cleaning the museum rather than Directing operations (Golding 2009: 67).
Through the network I am coming to understand and revalue the notion of the homespace at a planetary level. At this early stage of the project I can only note the beginnings of this and other points of contact with network members, whose ideas from the shared readings I outline.
Victoria Arana speaks of the whole planet as “home” in her paper (p2). She also highlights the importance of ‘respectful relations’ that echo in my theory of feminist-hermeneutics at the museum frontiers.
Two other points relate to the imaginative museum work I am attempting to progress through imaginative work in the museum as ‘homespace’: the ‘dream kingdom’ she speaks of with reference to the poet Tijan M. Sallah may be akin to Sheldon Annis’s idea of the ‘Dream Space’ which Gaynor Kavanagh employs and the feeling of “awe”/“wonder”, which is an important part of Greenblatt’s ‘Resonance and Wonder’ idea that has impacted museum studies (p3; Kavanagh 2000; Greenblatt 1999: 42-56).
I wonder if imaginative effort in the museum homespace requires physically slowing down and becoming mindful. In the “Tortoise Dream Kingdom,” I recall the idea of ‘tortoise mind’ a slower deeper sort of thought that differs from our more usual ‘hare brain’ fast responses to objects and others (p11-12). Tortoise mind is needed in the museum, where exploring the social role and actively working towards making a “good society”, which “is not one where only a few people make progress, and others live in abysmal poverty, but is one where the basic structures which allow people to progress are put in place” (p12).
Perhaps journeying, routes and roots is also key to entering the imaginative museum homespace. Arana notes a ‘journey within the homeland,’ of the self, which differs from the “external condition”, but which in the museum may be inspired by the external world of material culture from around the ‘planet’ (p17). The poet’s thoughtful movement personally moves me between the vastness of the world, the connection and caring of people in community and the relation to material culture, when he speaks of ‘listening to the earth, sharing a calabash of water’ for example (21).
Mina Kavaranta opens her paper with Spivak’s remark on the importance of learning to read critically, which my own museum pedagogy emphasizes (p1). She proceeds with a note on the complexity of sharing and making connection within the “unevenness” of the world where capitalism reigns. This theme is illustrated throughout her text with reference to the 2008 European White Paper and specifically held under a critical lens with respect to contemporary migration. Karavanta points to the asymmetrical and uneven relations of ‘living together’ when peoples are thrown into contact, often antagonistic and the ‘living with’ that is ‘yet to be realized’ or ‘yet to come’ (p4-5, 17).
Karavanta’s draws attention to Judith Butler’s idea of performativity, which interests me and which has received some critical attention in museum studies (Fraser 2007). It seems to me that museums might profitably rise to Butler’s call for working with agonistic relationships as a “performative contradiction”, for example in our creative writing workshops we might unpack the idea of the performance operating as ‘a process of destabilization and displacement’ rather than one that ‘produces and fixes meaning’ (p5). Anim-Addo and I have worked on this notion of the ‘performative contradiction ‘and the ‘absent present’, in our attempts to raise the voices of a “signifying minority” at Horniman. These idea echo in Timothy Luke point about when ‘cultures clash’ in museums clash can be ‘civilizing’ (Luke in Golding 2009).
In the context of the museum I also appreciate Karavanta’s use of Said to clarify notions of the nation, which national museums in particular are concerned with (31). She importantly highlights the ‘affiliations’ that make life possible, for not only migrant communities of ‘exiles and refugees’, but also the ‘outcasts and homeless peoples in their own land’, who are oppressed by capitalist global structures and mistaken or ill-thought through notions of national ‘homogeneity’ that dooms certain peoples to otherness and denies their status as human being (31-32). Spivak’s call for ‘planetary thinking’ reinforces this point (33).
In short Karavanta’s densely argued and theorized text demands longer analysis than I am able to give at this point, but I feel a shared theoretical positioning with her that I would like to explore further in this project.
Maria Lima writes on The Long Song by Andrea Levy, which is a text I love that resonates with my museum work on enslavement. While I have previously found Toni Morrison’s Beloved helpful to address issues of identity generally and in a contemporary world of white supremicism, Lima shows us how Levy’s text permits some more detailed discussion of the impact of racism and specifically a pernicious legacy of colonialism in the British context, which she highlights through the imaginative re-membering/retelling of a mother. The bringing to voice of the enslaved woman herself, rather than through the mouthpiece and inevitable distortions or whitenings of the oppressor or the white antislaver, is seen as a difficult struggle to articulation.
Additionally I am currently beginning work on humour studies as a theoretical framework for understanding museum meanings and am especially interested in the way that, by virtue of humour, at least in part, Lima demonstrates Levy does not leave us dwelling in victimhood (Golding 2013 forthcoming). Oppressed peoples have used humour as a way of coping with and rising above difficult situations, and as Billig demonstrates in the contemporary world, the number of Black comedians is high in ratio to white people. Lima’s paper importantly helps me to trace the borderlands between not only the serious and the comic, and what Hall notes is ‘the west and the rest’, but also the distinctiveness within the west as the UK and the west as the US, which is pertinent to my work on museum efforts during the bicentenary of the Abolition Act in 2007.
Finally, the note Lima makes to aesthetics and politics with reference to David Dabydeen struck me as relevant to the museum debate on the extent to which politics or work within the museum’s social role, and poetics or attention to the aesthetics of exhibitionary practices, may be connected in the museum. I have long been concerned with the social work of the museum, but, as someone whose life has been transformed by aesthetics during my first degree and second degrees as an art student in the UK and Japan, the value of aesthetics to work together with and to ‘move’ audiences is not ignored in my praxis. It seems to me that there is much work to be done at the frontiers between poetics and politics, the personal and the political, which is not to say that everything can be reduced to text and textual critique. On the contrary, I contend real human beings suffer – in their skin – perceived as too fat, ugly, dark …
The values attached to colour that Lima considers echo in (yellow girl) and the representation of Blackness (kidney pills) in Suzanne Scafe’s work on the “Gruesome and Yet Fascinating”: Hidden, Disgraced and Disregarded Cultural Forms’ in Jamaican short stories, which speak to me of museums. One museum project with a Mende mask from Serra Leone centred on ideas of ‘Beauty’ across cultures, which can be seen at the network website. Scafe’s note on the ‘ordinary people’s’ concern with ‘literary form and aesthetic value’ also echoes in the discussion Lima engages in, with reference to Dabydeen, that I outline above.
Additionally her paper considers ‘identity’, the ‘local’ and the ‘universal’ in a number of ways. She asks how it is that we can be, as we so surely are notably by virtue of our access to imaginative realms, ‘distinctively Jamaican’ or British or whatever and something/s else as well, in cultural representations? In this urban rural context she highlights food (p3-4) and sensory experiences, such as the ‘weird’ African music and song (8, 10), which seem key to our AHRC work of translation and the contemporary museum’s interest in multisensory ways of knowing. Identity and place is seen in her attention to urban and rural Jamaica. The middle-class short story writers in Jamaica hold romantic notions of the rural landscape, which are contrasted to my experience as a working class Londoner until 10 years ago when I choose to become a Leicester city dweller, knowing the unease and fearful emotions I soon feel when in the British rural landscape and towns, although there may be some connection with the emotional expression of ‘pocomania’ that intrigues and terrifies Una Marston along with other Jamaican writers of the period (11)
At Horniman Museum, working from the collections of anthropology with people of all ages and levels of ability, we regarded identities as plural – becoming – challenging the persistence of older mind sets that essentialised ‘us and them’, which are issues the writers of ‘Jamaican’ identity address. I remain interested in examining the tension between – being and becoming – cognisant of Fanon’s (1990) warning on the hazards of adhering to or adopting ‘national’ culture as a fixed entity that we repeat without deeper thought or feeling, which echoes in Scafe’s observations (13). Here identity touches on notions of nation and Britishness, which are areas of interest for me since the bicentenary of the Abolition Act in 2007, as I note above. Finally the communal ideals of working or ‘digging’ together, which Scafe outlines in her texts, seem applicable to our attempts at developing new non-hierarchical collaborative process (p4)
Finally we might translate the idea of the short story to the museum’s temporary exhibitions, which are criticised and celebrated in the museum studies literature. For example Jette Sandahl, founding director of the Museum of World Cultures in Goteberg Sweden notes the importance of the temporary exhibition to challenge ideas of fixing ‘other’ cultures, while Samantha Heywood of Museums Journal laments the lack of a permanent gallery to showcase African and Caribbean Diaspora cultures in the V&A during the 2007 bicentenary of the Abolition Act.
I regard Lisa Marchi’s work on the Middle East, specifically the Arab-British writer Leila Aboulela’s literature timely for museums and institutions operating within rising Islamophobia. Her paper articulates notions of belonging, home, nation and identity that concern our network. Marchi explores these ideas in Aboulela’s short story ‘The Museum’ with reference to the response of an ‘Other’ woman, Shadia, to the ‘circulating misrepresentations’ of her culture in a Scottish museum, which she ‘alters or reshapes’ (p2). Interestingly in this text Shadia subverts the binary positioning of woman as the passive object of observation, the ‘Other’ of the active male, by turning her gaze on her the responses of Scottish friend Bryan.
For the network Here Marchi’s points us to consider what get lost in translation, and we might note what is added in translation, which is vital to museum practice (p5).
I look forward to making further relationships with the thought of network members as the project continues.
Anim-Addo, J. (1998), Haunted by History, London, Mango Publishing
Bhabha, H. (1995) The Location of Culture, London, Routledge.
Cohen, R. and P. Toninato, (2010) The Creolisation Reader Studies in Mixed Identities and Cultures, London, Routledge
Fanon, F. (1990), The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, London.
Freire, P. (1996), Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London, Penguin.
Gadamer, H.G. (1981), Truth and Method, Sheed and Ward, London.
Golding, V. (2009) Learning at the Museum Frontiers, Identity, Race and Power. Ashgate.
Glissant, E. (1997), (trans Wing, B.) (1997) [Glissant 1990]) Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press
Hill-Collins, P. (1991), Black Feminist Thought Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, Routledge, London.
Hooks, b. (1992), Black Looks, Race and Representation, South End Press, Boston, MA, USA.
Karp, I. C.M. Kreamer and S.D. Lavine (eds), (1991), Museums and Communities: the Politics of Public Culture. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution
Lorde, A. (1996b ) ‘Poetry is Not a Luxury’ in Sister Outsider, The Audre Lorde Compendium, London, Pandora Harper Collins 1996 : 95-98
Lynch, B. (2010), Whose Cake is it anyway? A collaborative investigation into engagement and participation in 12 museums and galleries in the UK, Paul Hamlyn Foundation (<http://www.phf.org.uk/page.asp?id=1417>)
Morrison, T. (1988), Beloved, Picador, London
Morrison , T. ‘Living memory: a meeting with Toni Morrison’, in Gilroy, P., 1994a, Small Acts: Thoughts on the politics of Black Cultures, Serpents Tail, London
Philip, N, (1992), Frontiers. Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture, The Mercury Press, Ontario, Canada.
Rhadakrishnan, R. (2003) Theory in an Uneven World, Oxford, Blackwell.
Said, E. (1993), Culture and Imperialism, London, Chatto and Windus
Viv Golding is Programme Director of Ph.D. Research Studies and Lecturer at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, which she joined in 2002. Previously Dr. Golding had more than 20 years experience organizing formal education provision at the Horniman Museum and further education arts activities in London. She has published widely in the field of creative learning from anthropology collections, notably her 2009 monograph Learning at the Museum Frontier: Identity Race and Power, and is currently working on an edited volume for Berg, Collaborative Museums. Dr. Golding has also gained awards to present her research themes around the world, including Mombusho and Daiwa scholarships to investigate “Museum Literacy” in Japan (2010) and the AHRC “Mapping Faith and Place in Leicester” (2010). Further details at http://www.le.ac.uk/ms/contactus/vivgolding.html and http://www.le.ac.uk/museumstudies.