photo: heroes of the anti-colonial resistance, Algiers

Curating Difficult Knowledge

Engaging with the aftermath of violence through exhibitions, memorials and sites of conscience
Winter 2011
Instructor: Dr. Erica Lehrer


Course Description

What unique challenges arise in attempts to deploy memories and documents of violence for public display? And what innovations
in exhibition design, museology, and the activation of memorial sites might these challenges inspire? In this course we will grapple with these questions in theory and practice. Course participants will have the unique opportunity to curate original, experimental exhibits
based on direct dialogue with—and multimedia documentation of— post-conflict communities, through collaboration with the History Department’s CURA project: “Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide and other Human Rights Violations.”

We will engage with innovative “sites of conscience” and some of the newest museological theory, which challenges us to consider what would happen if exhibitions were regarded as “an interface or agent or catalyst,” with visitors acting as “producers” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2000:12). Drawing on this vision we will consider ways of documenting and understanding visitor experience in order to open new avenues for knowledge production about post-conflict communities and the creation of exhibitions.

Every aspect of exhibition development and the products of curation will be examined; the debates that go into producing a museum exhibit involve assumptions, boundary negotiations, competing declarations of meaning, and varying modes of expression—all of which typically are unseen in the final, “monovocal” presentation. We will experiment with less authoritative modes of presentation, revealing the many and often divergent understandings regarding “shared” history that can exist within and among communities.

Given the sensitive subject matter we will be entrusted to curate in this course, we will pay special attention to balancing the more prosaic meaning of the curation process (“to select, organize, and look after the items in a collection or exhibition”) with its deeper mandate: “to take care of”.

Center for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence