Research and Writings

Museums as a Site of Healing for Indigenous Communities

For my course on Visual Arts Research Methods, I decided to research on how museum settings can become a space of healing for indigenous communities whose cultures have been appropriated by museum authorities of western ethnological museums. Part of the arts-based research method was incorporating a non-written element into the research paper or Living Inquiry Project, as it was called. This non-written element could be a drawing, a photograph, a poem, a performance, anything that would act as “translation” of the living inquiry that we were pursuing. I decided to write a poem on my thoughts about how South Asian artifacts were described in educational materials of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Inside the dark halls of a consecrated venue
Built on the esteemed streets of Fifth Avenue
Are artifacts acquired from a thousand years before
Displayed in its glory which one cannot ignore
Plaques and statues from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific

Are brought under one roof in one gallery to be specific
They depict divine figures or circles of life and death
But their didactics often makes one out of breath

For the museum labels of artifacts at the Met,
Are often full of words that can upset

Figures of multi-armed goddesses
Are described in a way that distress
Sometimes they are ugly or horrific
Elsewhere they are sensual and seductive
The male figures are rarely exoticized
It is the female who is often weaponized

If it were up to me to describe

I would ensure the artifacts were dignified
Instead of the flowing curves of the female body

I would talk about the inherent spirituality
For it is the divine spirit which is personified

There is some decorum which one must abide
The focus should be on aspects like morality

Beyond the limits of just pure physicality

The narrative is unfolded by these labels
Ways that can make one think of fictitious fables
Intricacies of Parvati’s wisdom and strength
To the voluptuousness of her curves it is condensed
In describing the ideal female body in Indian art
We overlook the complexities that sets them apart
In these scripted didactics, her true spirit is lost
Her history is celebrated, but at what cost?