Sanchita Balachandran Shifts the Framework for Conservation with Untold Stories


The field of conservation was created to fight change to prevent objects from becoming dusty broken or rusted but fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset the mindset of protector a mindset. It's too easy to imagine objects and cultures. In the state of stasis. This is how it always was and will be forever. Often I mean just given the colonial oneal had an imperial histories of museums. It was because people were going to be gone forever. That culture was gone. And so this is the last trace but in fact. That's not how cultural heritage works it. It's transformed it's changed. It continues on in different forms and a lot of the way the Conservatives think about cultural heritage is is about out mitigating that change. which makes it a little bit fossilized but to me that changes where things are really vibrant exciting and people are so closely connected to cultural cultural heritage that it really feels alive? This is since Cheetah Bala Chandran Associate Director of the John Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Hello my name is Cinci Bala Alexander. I'm conservative and I'm trained in the conservation of archaeological materials in particular and my day job is the associate director of the Archaeological Theological Museum at Johns Hopkins University. Bala Chandran founded untold stories a project that pursues conservation profession that represents and preserves a full spectrum of human cultural heritage for the past few years. The project has been hosting public events at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation Conservation Untold Stories emerged of bollocks hundreds frustration with how narrowly the field of conservation has been defined at felt that there were literally early too many untold stories in the field of conservation. I wanted to find ways to actually start to think about what else cultural heritage could mean other than say the things we typically think of as belonging in a museum or many of us cultural heritage means going to this important looking building that has paintings and sculpture and has labels labels next to it and I think we kind of decided in some ways at that's cultural heritage and preservation means taking care of those things and really I've become more and more aware error and curious about the fact that cultural heritage is much more complicated and diverse set of practices. It's often not necessarily about a single object or a thing but rather how that thing might function within a community or communities as as part of a series of practices and exchanges and storytelling and I just wanted to have a way to kind of work with people who are really doing that work outside the museum and doing it in ways that I think preserved Europe but also change cultural practices since untold stories takes place at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation. A lot of professionals in the field Are already gathered there. The meetings attract over one thousand conservators blake many professional conferences. The meetings are often held in a nondescript hotel how setting but untold stories makes it a practice to conceptualize where attendees are sitting and the history that preceded them an example of this is the twentieth nineteen eighteen untold stories event titled Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation. How many times have you been to a conference and you could be anywhere right? I mean you're in this big room and you never leave the hotel or the conference center and part of what I was interested in was trying to actually place a somewhere so twenty one thousand nine since we were actually meeting at the Mohegan Sun which is a Mohegan owned casino. We were on native land. It seemed like a really important opportunity. -tunities to talk about native sovereignty kind of history of genocide in our own country. The fact that anyone who's non-indigenous in this country is a settler settler colonialist but to really think about what this means in terms of how we take care of collections that have come to us as a result of historical happenstance stance but also a very violent past and to acknowledge the fact that museums which for most of us who work in museums are very safe. Welcoming and joyful places uses are evidence of this history of of pain and removal so the opportunity to work with the commod educational initiative was really exciting. Because because it's a partly native co-founded and they do a lot of educational work around questions of how even think about the history of this country story and to me. That was really important to be able to say in native space as opposed to you know in a place somewhere else. Part of of Bala. Hundreds point is that there isn't such a thing as a textualist cultural material. The intentionally nondescript conference ballroom has a lot in common with deliberately sterile museum environment episode. Sixty eight of this show features an interview with Ed Wanda's spears director of programming and outreach at the adamant educational initiative and one of the convenors of the twenty nineteen untold stories event in the episode. She discusses her presentation about how native native narratives are violently presented through White Lens in museums. It was in Donna spheres of Who suggested the title she had worked in museums? She's very familiar with these questions. And she's the one who suggested indigenous futures which forces you to recognize that this is not something of the past. We really wanted to do something. The thing that felt like we were going to push. This had to be uncomfortable but it also had to be aspirational. Where do we go now? And how can as conservatives servers we actually be part of this very kind of collaborative supportive mission to ensure futures. We can't make it happen by ourselves. It's it's not like we're saving anybody and that's another big concern of mine. There's a real sort of savior mentality that I think conservation has ask we save objects and I certainly came out of graduate school thinking that I was going to save everything and to me. That's a very problematic way to think about it because frankly if the objects still survives it didn't need me it made it thousands of years without me somehow. We've decided that we're the ones that making the that make these things live live forever which is pure arrogance so part of this event was really to think about how as conservatives can come up with action items and by action items. It was practices but more than anything of kind of Shipton in a mental framework for working much more equitably and more humbly to really have a sense of respect for this notion that there has already been a history before you and so when you enter into this hopefully collaborative relationship you need to acknowledge alleged. Things have survived for a long time without your intervention. And they don't need you but you could actually provide some sort of service some sort of benefit that could actually really help the untold stories team. True to their mission is careful not to present the workshop as a single solution or even a set of solutions. The team wants wants to counter the assumption within the profession. That all you need to do is go to one workshop and then you're all done you know. Unfortunately this doesn't change the working working practices it doesn't change the mindset. It doesn't change the way an organization functions and what happens is then marginalized people are called upon again and again to kind of keep performing this vulnerability and this discomfort for themselves in order to educate people who are unwilling to do the work that consistent like every single day for the rest of their lives work that will be required to make transformative change possible part of what in the twenty nineteen in conversation we. We felt very strongly we had to say is if if you really believe in equality if you really want to do something that is truly collaborative that does not assume some sort of hierarchy. It means being really uncomfortable the entire time and maybe at the end of it things will change but you you still have to kind of follow through on it when it gets really uncomfortable. And the fact is most marginalized communities. People have done this entire lives so it it just feels like it's time for you. Know I think in general the museum community to say we're willing to engage in these kinds of difficult ongoing perpetual natural

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