Slavery and human rights: struggles of representation

Lectures by Charmaine Nelson and Jennifer Carter

March 27, 2017, 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Galerie de l’UQAM
In French and English
Free admission

Animation : Monique Régimbald-Zeiber
With researchers Charmaine Nelson (McGill University) and Jennifer Carter (UQAM)

In dialogue with the exhibition Graham Fagen. The Slave’s Lament, the Galerie de l’UQAM welcomes researchers Charmaine Nelson (McGill University) and Jennifer Carter (UQAM) for an evening of lectures that will address the representation of the slave trade and the oppression of populations in art, as well as considerations related to the archiving, dissemination and preservation of these stories for posterity.

The lectures will be preceded by a short presentation of the exhibition Graham Fagen. The Slave’s Lament by curator Louise Déry. Monique Régimbald-Zeiber will be facilitating the evening.

The lectures

Charmaine Nelson
Mining a Colonial Archive: Fugitive Slave Advertisements – An Untapped Resource in the Study of Slavery in Canada

(The lecture will be given in English)

According to Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial administrators were prolific producers of social categories.” But at the same time, colonialists strategically reserved certain archival tactics for unfree people. The colonial archives of European empires, whether held in Europe or their colonies, are defined by the effacement or the strategic partial representation of the enslaved African. As such, as Stoler has explained, we are left to sort out, “what was ‘unwritten’ because it could go without saying and ‘everyone knew it,’ what was unwritten because it could not yet be articulated, and what was unwritten because it could not be said.” Following Stoler’s insights, I would add to her list, what was unwritten because to do so would further humanize the enslaved. This lecture will explore the Canadian fugitive slave archive as an under-explored resource which discloses vital information about the lives of the enslaved. While positioning fugitive slave advertisements as “portraits” of the enslaved, I will examine them alongside other colonial archives to discuss methods of recuperating and humanizing unfree people which push back against the colonial archive as a strategy of erasure.

Jennifer Carter
Cultivating a Praxis of Human Rights Museology : The Work of Museums in the Contexts of Justice and Reconciliation

(The lecture will be given in French)

Human rights museums are a relatively new phenomenon in the cultural sphere. As institutions that self-identify in their title and mission statements as museums dedicated to human rights, they are somewhat different from an earlier generation, such as memorial museums, that pursue human rights issues, or social justice more broadly, in their exhibition, curatorial and programming orientations – but how? And to what ends? Arising from different political, economic, social, and cultural situations and located in geopolitical contexts ranging from post-dictatorship societies to liberal democracies, a growing number of human rights museums founded largely since the millennium are responding in different ways to the conjuncture of museology and human rights. This presentation will contextualise the emergence of human rights museums within a broad museological framework, and offer a comparative analysis of the nature of human rights discourses and practices within these institutions by drawing on research conducted at human rights and memorial museums in Chile, Paraguay, Japan, the U.S. and Canada. In particular, the presentation will examine the terms within which these sites of public memory engage with a range of issues emerging from an evolving culture of human rights, notably in relation to the Holocaust, slavery, post-dictatorial and post-conflict societies, transitional justice, testimony, trauma, reconciliation, and mourning. As these museums engage in the challenging task of curating difficult knowledge, they must cultivate a dialogic space that allows for the expression of multiple identities and perspectives. This presentation will specifically examine how a generation of memorial and human rights museums has developed different narrative, interpretive and pedagogical strategies, thereby revealing a shifting landscape of identity and memorial politics at work within museums addressing difficult histories related to the infringement of, and ongoing fight for, human rights.

The guest speakers

Charmaine Nelson is a Professor of Art History at McGill University. Her research and teaching interests include postcolonial and black feminist scholarship, Transatlantic Slavery Studies and Black Diaspora Studies. She has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. Nelson has authored six books including, The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art (New York: Routledge, 2010), and Slavery, Geography and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (Surrey, UK: Ashgate/Taylor and Francis, 2016).

Jennifer Carter is Director of Graduate Studies in Museology and Professor of New Museology, Intangible Heritage and Cultural Objects in the Departement of Art History at Université du Québec à Montréal. A museologist and historian of art and architecture, she holds a Ph.D. in History and Theory of Architecture (McGill University), a Master’s degree in Art History (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), and a BA (Honours) in Art History (McGill University). She has worked in Canadian museums and archives, including the Canadian Center for Architecture, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Canadian Architecture Collection at McGill University. As a curator, she co-organized Drawing from Ideas, Building from Books : Architectural Treatises in the McGill University Library, Women and Homelessness and Safdie’s Sixties: Looking Forward to Looking Back. Her research focuses on two main axes: the relationship of the museum, the defense of rights and social justice (funded by SSHRC and FRQSC), and the relationship between representation, museum architecture and exhibition making. She has written and co-authored articles in international books and journals, and is currently working on the manuscript Museums in a culture of human rights: New museums around the globe (UK: Routledge/Taylor and Francis).

Monique Régimbald-Zeiber lives and works in Montreal. Very early, she became interested in writing and politics in art. In 1980, she obtained a Ph.D. in literature that offered a cross-reading of the writings and pictorial practices of the Russian avant-garde. She was a professor at the École des arts visuels et médiatiques (UQAM) from 1992 to 2012. She was the director of the École for 4 years. She was also Associate Dean of Research and Creation of the Faculty of Arts at UQAM. As a painter, she has, over the past twenty years, developed a practice that questions the construction of the gaze and history, especially that of women. She does it in and through crosses of painting and writing. Her works are part of various collections, including the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and the Galerie de l’UQAM. They have been exhibited in Québec, Canada and Europe. She has been the subject of several individual exhibitions, including Éclats de Rome at La Nube di Oort (Rome, 2008), and Les dessous de l’histoire (2) at Galerie B 312 (Montreal, 2011-12 ). In 1996, she founded Les Éditions les petits carnets with Louise Déry, director of the Galerie de l’UQAM.

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