Mannequins, Dancers, and Relics: Differentiation and Racism in the Ethnographic Exhibition Halls of the Museo Nacional de Antropología of Mexico

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 10:00 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Mario Rufer, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana
This paper focuses on the least visited exhibition halls of the Museo Nacional de Antropología (MNA) in Mexico: the ethnographic halls. According to Dora Sierra, they were built after more than 70 ethnographic “expeditions” throughout the country in the 1970s, in a clearly extractive action to capture “the cultures that were dying with the onset of modernity.” Beyond debating an ethnography of “rescues”, in this talk I am interested in focusing on the political dimension that informs the exhibition of “ethnographic objects” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett). In the year 2000 some community museums complained to the MNA for the degrading –colonial and “racist”– use of life-sized mannequins for exhibition purposes in some halls. Other spaces like the Museum of Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca, demanded the “restitution” of the sculpture of the Danzante de Pluma to the original community (to which the MNA responded with a particular action of state presence). If the collection truly guards a close relationship with accumulation and secret (Stewart), what does this policy of the objects stocked by the state –and claimed by certain agents– reveal about the relationship between nation and community, heraldry and relic, difference and racism, modernity and coloniality?
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