- The Museum of Truth and Reconciliation
The (After)life of Objects
Mark Auslander's short article "Objects of Kinship" describes the discovery of an object referred to as "Ashley's Sack" at a Tennessee flea market. This cotton seed bag was found to be an heirloom passed from mother to daughter on the sale of the latter as a slave. On the front of the sack, the following message is embroidered:
My great grandmother Rosemother of Ashley gave her this sack whenshe was sold at age 9 in South Carolinait held a tattered dress 3 handfulls ofpecans a braid of Roses hair. Told herIt be filled with my Love alwaysShe never saw her againAshley is my grandmotherRuth Middleton1921 (Auslander 209)
This object, imbued with changing economies of value-emotional, spiritual, and more recently, financial-reaches out to us from the past, "across histories of love and violence" (Auslander 216), resurrecting itself in the present to convey a poignant story of both kinship and loss. Reactivating abandoned objects in a present conversation on loss and memory, the art event Museum of Truth and Reconciliation sought to do something similar in bringing new value to objects discarded as worthless. The Museum of Truth and Reconciliation was instituted first as an activity and later as a collection, a beta-museum curated by the group of participants who took part in the singular art event on October 19, 2016 at the Centre for Indigenous Studies [End Page 614] at the University of Toronto. In my hybrid role as artist-researcher, I conducted the event as an attempt at situating or materializing notions surrounding truth and reconciliation, particularly as drawn from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), in aesthetic forms, those accessible in the everyday, normalized spaces of the present that still hold traces of the past, whether tangibly or transiently. If a commission set up to instigate "truth and reconciliation" is conceived of as "a space for the performance of history and the negotiation of both individual and collective memory in the passage to reconciliation" (Meskin and van der Walt 69), how is this performance or practice taken into normality or the everyday? How is it enacted on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to occupying an autonomous space in which it is performed as a cathartic, peacemaking act? This essay serves as a reflexive epilogue to the participatory art event, written as a compilation or Wunderkammer of thoughts and images that work around the idea of truth and reconciliation, a setting forth of ideas and activities through which an "end" is not prefigured. It seeks to set up connections between artistic practice and history through combinatory modes of thinking and doing. In this sense, the essay is not a definitive study and has not come to a conclusion or end, but should rather be read as an ongoing collection of thoughts, which could continuously be added to and reassembled.
In the art event I asked participants to conduct explorations in which they would collect in small plastic "collector's boxes," of the type typically used for fishing tackle or for the storage of small delicate objects, items that they felt spoke to a specific chosen prompt from a set of cue cards each containing an image and a written proposal for action (see Figure 1). This posed the question of how a set of ideas or keywords could and would be imagined or envisaged aesthetically. The textual prompts included, each on a separate card, the phrases "Appearing/Vanishing," "Monument to Lost People," "Mapping Bodies," "Moments/Monuments," "Flotsam and Jetsam," "Lost and Found," "Placed/Displaced," "Empty Shells," "Replaced and Re-placed," "Petrification and Mortification," "Body Fragments," "Burying/Covering," "Remembering and Remembering," "Trauma Imprints," and the single words "Detritus," "Debris," and "Souvenir." The pictures on the cards were a selection of ink drawings, rendered predominantly in black and white and muted colour, which evoked the human body or parts thereof.1 This suite of cards sought to inspire "serious" or "studious" play,2 in this case a moment of play that served as a thinking exercise around individualized...