Event: Conference: Cloth and Costume in Ethnographic Museums – New Directions in Research, Care and Interpretation 

museum-ethnographers-group-conference-2017

Event dates: 6–7 April 2017

The Museum Ethnographers Group Annual Conference 2017 will address cloth and costume. Cloth is a unique technology: light and flexible but presenting large surfaces and capable of taking innumerable colours and structures, it covers and divides things, reveals and connects them. Clothing and costuming the body, to protect and conceal it, to make it beautiful or terrifying, to transform or display its many identities – bring persons and statuses into the performed social world. Since remote prehistory, cloth and costume have both created demands and opportunities for humans to devise many of our most ingenious, delicate and technically complicated artefacts.

From Inuit gut parka to ancient Nazca textiles, traditional West African grand boubou costume to Masai beadwork, Scottish plaid to Italian tapestries, Persian rugs to Indian sari to Balinese dance masks, Bismarck Archipelago masquerade puppets to Samoan barkcloth lavalava; the cloth and costume in our World Cultures collections are immensely rich, diverse and culturally significant. In recent centuries, cloth and costume have also become important material sites for the contestation of identities and moralities, economic globalisation and colonial acculturation. From the worldwide trade in European mill-woven chemically dyed and printed textiles, to the battles of Christian missionaries with imagined states of immoral native undress, to the recent conflict between the French government and wearers of the hijab and burkini, the globalisation of Western dress convention has powerfully impacted the world’s other material cultures.

How, then, do we weave together these many strands in the ethnographic museum? What is the current state of research into world cultures’ cloth and costume collections, and what new approaches are we developing to understand them better? How are historical textiles and costume being curated in the world’s museums, and reimagined in the world’s contemporary art scenes? Are we engaging with contemporary world fashion or trapped in perpetuating stereotypical imaginings of an ‘authentically dressed’ ethnographic past that may never have existed? How can we manage these challenging objects better? What are the particular conservation problems of ethnographic textiles and costume, and how can we better care for them in the future? How are we exhibiting cloth and clothing in 2017? Are we capitalising on costume’s universal appeal in our display and education programmes?

Titles and 200-word abstracts for papers addressing these and other questions are warmly welcomed. Two standard formats are offered to presenters: a full conference paper to last twenty minutes, and a shorter ten-minute presentation on work in progress. Please email your proposed title, abstract and format choice (or any queries) to andrew.mills@glasgow.ac.uk by Monday 6 February.

Booking for the 2017 conference is now open. Tickets can be purchased through the Eventbrite site.

For more information, visit the website of the Museum Ethnographers Group.

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