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Indexing (in) authenticity: art and artefact in ethnography museums

Carine Ayélé Durand


Over the past three decades, ethnographic museums have increasingly collected and displayed contemporary artworks in order to challenge assumptions about the (in)authenticity of cultural minorities. Yet, this paper argues, by perpetuating ambiguities and contradictions in their collecting and display practices, they have often failed to fully acknowledge the complexities attached to the notion of cultural continuity. Drawing on examples from the Etnografi ska Museet in Stockholm and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) in Cambridge, it is suggested that the collecting of contemporary artworks in ethnographic museums might not be sufficient to make these institutions socially and politically relevant. As some of the Sami and Maori artists involved have indicated, direct engagement between artists and museum staff, and with the public, is fundamental to conveying that their artworks are at once “traditional” and “contemporary”.

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