Animals, Plants, and Ruins: Colonial Articulations of the Museo Nacional de México

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:40 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Frida Gorbach, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana
This paper focuses on the Museo Nacional de México, in a time before 1909, the year in which Nature was separated from Culture, and a museum devoted to showing the universality of science was turned into another, concerned with the specificity of national culture. I pause there, to make a paradigm out of the nineteenth-century museum, in other words, a singular historical event that nonetheless makes the totality of the historical context intelligible (Agamben). The idea is to analyze how that “exhibitory complex” (Benett) started an operation that erased the distinction between knowledge and power, registering something natural as pertaining to the cultural realm, eventually converting a “cultural problem” into a governmental one. I show how the same colonial matrix, while concealed, was the same one on which the current Museo Nacional de Antropología was edified. With a specific interest in race, and to the conceptions, perceptions and racial patterns that organized the nineteenth-century exhibition, I establish articulations between the animals, the plant collections, and the “ruins” of the archeology exhibition rooms, to ask in which ways did the nineteenth-century museum sustained the imaginary of the savage man. My goal is not building up a stable figure that remains motionless throughout the centuries, but to decipher its specificity in an attempt to open long duration to the movement of historicity. Ultimately, this paper attempts to “shake the symbols”, to play with them, to erode the structure in its glacial rhythm of historical reproduction (Segato).