Community/Museum: Relocating Curatorial Authority in Techiman, Ghana

Public Lecture by Dr. Ray Silverman

Thursday, April 5, 2012, 12:00-2:00
LB-1014, Library Building
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Sociology-Anthropology & Art History.

Museums in Africa are a poignant legacy of colonial pasts. Many have little relevance to the communities in which they are situated, and at best, serve as tourist attractions for expatriate visitors. Authority and responsibility for constructing narratives presented in these museums rest with professional curators whose knowledge and insight are grounded in European museological traditions. Following such models, the voices encountered in most exhibitions are those of “expert” curators. There are exceptions, but not many.

Community museums are offering a forum for new modes of curatorial practice. Well-known examples include the District Six Museum in Cape Town, the Culture Banks of Mali, and the Community Museums of Kenya. In these and other community-centered museums, “curatorial” roles have been reshaped. Knowledge-based expertise of curators remains critical, but processes of (re)presenting knowledge and constructing new knowledge are shared with local constituencies for whom curators serve as catalysts for collaboration. Such a paradigm shift has significant social and political implications leading to a redefining—a reimagining, even—of what museums are in and for Africa.

This presentation offers an overview and critique of an ongoing project to build a cultural center in Techiman, a burgeoning city located in central Ghana. The work has involved opportunities for several levels of collaboration—partnerships between municipality and university, between chiefs and commoners, between local and global “experts,” and among people who occupy different social and cultural spaces. It also has allowed for the application of current social theory concerning culture, heritage and civil society.

Ray Silverman joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 2002 to launch a new graduate program in museum studies. He is jointly appointed in the Department of the History of Art and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, and is Director of the Museum Studies Program based at the U-M Museum of Art. Before moving to Ann Arbor, Dr. Silverman was on the faculty at Michigan State University, and before that UC Santa Cruz. He is a historian and curator of the visual cultures of Africa, and most of his work has been undertaken in Ghana and Ethiopia. He has explored a range of subjects dealing with historical and social dimensions of metallurgy and the visual culture of religion, specifically of Islam and indigenous religions in Ghana, and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia.

Since 2005, Dr. Silverman has been involved in Nkwantananso: The Cultural Center of Techiman, as a project that offers opportunities for collaboration among faculty and students from several universities in Ghana and the United States and members of a community in central Ghana building a cultural center. The work has involved application of current social theory concerning culture, heritage and civil society.

Center for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence