My name is Teoni, and I am a year 12 student at Oxford Spires Academy. My family has several different ethnicities, ranging from Italian, to Bajan to Jamaican. Naturally, culture is very important to me and therefore, when I saw the Gabon piece, I immediately chose it, I was in love with the sculpture and the potential story behind it, but even more so, I was intrigued by the evidence of scarification embedded into the art. Once my decision was final, Marenka aided me with my research into Gabon and its history of scarification. From there, I began to structure the podcast with Catriona, in which we came up with questions such as; Can you describe the piece to me? What is scarification? How has ideas of beauty changed over time? What does beauty mean for different cultures?
‘The process in creating the podcast was quite challenging because I had think about how we talked about other cultures and the assumptions that are made.’
However, despite all these questions, we still wanted the primary focus to be around the label of scarification, and respecting the culture. The reason for this is, I was informed that ‘scarification’ was once labelled ‘deformation’ before it became popular in the west in the late 20th Century. I really wanted to focus on that, and how cultures are sometimes only accepted if they become ‘westernised.’ This project has really opened my eyes to the importance of labels and how important it is that museums, such as Pitt Rivers, change misleading labels in order to truly respect the cultures that we are so privileged to learn about, through the mesmerising items, such as the Gabon sculpture. In future, I hope that, labels will not be limited to the ideals of the West, and that culture is shared, and not boxed into categories that appease one culture as opposed to uplifting the origin.
My name is Abigail Tucker and I’m a Year 12 African-Caribbean student from Oxford Spires Academy. I have always been interested in my African roots. My parents have always made me aware of the culture I come from and how important it is that I understand it and protect it. For these reasons I was drawn to the theme ‘scarification’. I chose this theme because the concept of beauty back then fascinated me and I couldn’t help but compare it to today’s concept of beauty. The theme resonates with my family as some of my ancestors took part in scarification but it doesn’t resonate with my personal life because I’ve been brought up in a slightly different culture and so have my parents.
After my partner, Teoni, and I chose our theme, we had to do a lot of research so we could begin to structure our podcast and think about what we would say. The recording process was very different than what I expected, but it was very interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes of a podcast and my partner and I had fun talking about the theme and comparing it to modern day ideas. The process in creating the podcast was quite challenging because I had think about how we talked about other cultures and the assumptions that are made. I also had to ask a lot of questions such as, why did it take us so long to accept cultural traditions, and how did this affect the labels?
Figure 1 Wood door with carved figure showing cicatrisation, 19th century, Gabon, Africa, Pitt Rivers Museum, image courtesy PRM (PRM000010065)
This project has changed the way view Pitt rivers and museums in general, as it made me aware of the problematic labelling that has occurred and how people are working to improve them. This project has also allowed me to gain a better understanding of some of the objects within the collection. I hope that in the future museums will think more carefully to how they label objects and cultural traditions to ensure they respect the culture and those who inherit it. This to me is important so that people who come to visit the museum can gain a proper understanding of the objects they see and possibly learn to appreciate the range of different cultures represented in the museum.
Overall, I loved the experience and learning about some of the objects in the Pitt Rivers museum. It was so interesting to explore the issues within museums and their labels. Thank you Marenka Thompson-Odium, Research Assistant on the Labelling Matters Project, for leading and helping us create our podcast.