Edna Manley Memorial Lecture 2010

Alissandra Cummins

Alissandra Cummins – “Reconstructing Identity: Memory, Museums and the Making of Meaning in the Caribbean Context.”

The Edna Manley Foundation, in association with the National Gallery of Jamaica and the Edna Manley College, is pleased to present the 2010 Edna Manley Memorial lecture, “Reconstructing Identity: Memory, Museums and the Making of Meaning in the Caribbean Context” by Alissandra Cummins. The lecture will take place at the National Gallery on Friday March 5, starting at 12:00 noon.

This year’s distinguished guest speaker, Alissandra Cummins, is an internationally acclaimed authority on Caribbean heritage, museum development and art. She is Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and Chair of the National Art Gallery Committee of Barbados. Ms. Cummins is as well, since 2004, President of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the UNESCO body with responsibility for museums, and has served UNESCO in various other high-level capacities, including as President of the International Advisory Committee of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme and (2007-2009) and as Chairperson of the Financial and Administrative Commission of its Executive Board.

Alissandra Cummins’ research and curatorial work, at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and internationally, has focused on the iniquities and inequities of slavery in the West Indies. Her work as an international curator was expanded with her appointment as a member of the Advisory Committee and Guest Curator of the Atlantic Slave Trade Gallery of the National Museums and Galleries on the Merseyside in Liverpool. She has published widely on museums and on art, including the book Art in Barbados: What Kind of Mirror Image (1999), which she co-authored with Allison Thompson and Nick Whittle.

As Chairperson of the National Art Gallery Committee of Barbados since its establishment in 1989, Alissandra Cummins has led in defining new policies and programmes with respect to the exhibition, acquisition and interpretation of Barbados’ visual arts, in the development of an active conservation and documentation programme to ensure the professional management of the Barbados National Collection, and in developing strategic partnerships at the national, regional and international levels geared towards the redefining and repositioning Caribbean curatorship. During this period the Committee has been actively engaged in the development of a vibrant programme focused on the acquisition of 20th and 21st century art work, commissioning exhibitions, public installations and interventions on various themes, and encouraging and supporting new art writing in catalogues, journals and books.

Musei Wormiani - Ole Worms' Cabinet of Curiosities (1655)

The lecture Alissandra Cummins will present on March 5 takes as its point of departure the Baroque cabinets of curiosities, as early agents of globalization, since they brought objects from the entire known world to Europe, from which images of the world were formed there. The museum, in this early form, was already an institution of globalization, and soon became a globalized institution in its own right: it not only acted as an intermediary, but it spread as a global institution. The museum as a structural and institutional model of collecting and exhibiting, she argues, was probably the most successful European export in cultural globalization, and became the accepted model for the construction, control and communication of knowledge throughout the colonial world in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Fundamental to our understanding of the original role of the museum in the colonial Caribbean context is recognizing it as part of the complex interrelationship between imperial expansion and scientific development. It is only in the recent decades of the post independence era that the need for the authentication of a public culture in developing nation states has led to the deconstructing of official history, the reconstruction of shared memory and the construction of public identity, as a critical part of the nationalist agenda. These actions, Ms. Cummins further argues, are fraught with contestation over issues of whose heritage is presented and have invested all levels of the social discourse within the Caribbean community. This has led to the reshaping of the role of the national museum and national gallery in the Anglophone Caribbean as public articulations of identity, redefining our view not only of each other but of ourselves. The lecture will therefore focus primarily on the experience of the National Art Gallery Committee of Barbados with its mandate to conceptualize, define and launch/establish this new space/institution within the globalized context of the 21st century Caribbean and beyond.

The 2010 Edna Manley Memorial lecture should not be missed by anyone with an interest in the social and cultural role of museums in the postcolonial Caribbean and, specifically, the national art galleries of the Caribbean. The lecture is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served.

The National Gallery acknowledges with thanks the sponsorship of the Jamaica Pegasus of the hotel accommodation for Ms. Cummins.

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