‘Curating Protest Memory’ – workshop at King’s College London – 28 March, 2019

The Protest Memory Network’s third workshop, on ‘Curating Protest Memory’, took place on the 28th March. It was organised at King’s College London by Dr Red Chidgey, Lecturer in the university’s Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries. Once again, delegates were able to share their perspectives on the day’s events using the workshop’s #protestmem hashtag.

After an introduction by the network’s principal investigator, Dr Joanne Garde-Hansen, we had our first panel, on Protest Objects and Rapid Response Collecting, chaired by Dr Nuria Querol. Firstly, Dr Sian Rees spoke to us about her research on the role of performative objects in environmental protest in Paris, including empty shoes signifying a banned march, and inflatable cobblestones as tools for introducing an element of play to proceedings. Secondly, Dr Kate Antosik-Parsons talked about her work as part of the Archiving the 8th project, collecting remnants of the cultures of protest around the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment banning abortion in the Republic of Ireland. This initiative involved consolidating individual and organisational efforts to collate artefacts from the campaign, working with librarians, archivists, museums and academics, and the challenges around capturing the personal, often traumatic stories that circulated in online media during the referendum, as well as underrepresented voices on both sides of the debate. The subsequent panel discussion ranged over issues such as the difficulties of maintaining the ‘activeness’ of objects in an archival or museum context, the value, accessibility and production of often commodified objects, and the frequently difficult relationships between activists and institutions.

After lunch, Dr Chidgey introduced Stella Toonen, who led a session on Remembering Activism through Co-Curation. Ms Toonen told us that institutions engaging in collaborative projects needed to give serious thought to how they select community partners, what the project’s aim is, and how it fits in with the organisation’s wider aims, and highlighted the differences in the balance of power between institutions and communities that different types of projects involve. Subsequent discussion considered the amenability of funding arrangements and organisational structures to the uncertainty involved in co-creation, as well as the extent of collaboration possible before communities are institutionalised.

After this, workshop attendees were divided into groups and given materials to design ‘small-world’ museums and exhibition spaces curating protest memory. They produced respectively a dialogic space for achieving reconciliation over Brexit; a museum in which attendees hear recalcitrant former security force members give their accounts of policing protest; and a teach-out commemorating the exclusion of student activists by King’s College London during the Queen’s recent visit.

The event’s final panel was chaired by Dr Richard Martin, and considered Future Directions of the Activist Museum. Firstly, Stefan Dickers from the Bishopsgate Institute, discussing the need to make institutions as welcoming as possible,  of letting depositors reuse their materials, and on the intrinsically political nature of archival work. Then, Damien Arness spoke to us about both his work with Queerseum, and the challenges of  working with established institutions, queering museum spaces, and creating opportunities for queer people to detail their own histories. Thirdly, Jane Trowell and Shezara Francis from Platform London spoke about the possibilities for ‘activating the archive’, with particular emphasis on issues of race and intergenerationality. Penultimately, Dr Paula Serafini discussed environmental activism, introducing the audience to the work of ‘BP or Not BP’, which protests against the oil industry’s sponsorship of the arts, and Etcétera – Museo de Neoextractavismo, which memorialisies struggles in Argentina against neo-extractive capitalism. Finally, Dr Cara Courage spoke about Tate Exchange, and its effort to provide a space for hosting activists and art, as part of a wider shift in the Tate’s pedagogical approach towards co-creation, pluralism and public access. Subsequently, panellists fielded questions on issues including the comparisons between activists occupying spaces and being granted permission to access them, and the challenges of articulating critical voices within the museum.

In breaks throughout the day, delegates were treated to the sounds of our very own Protest Memory Playlist, compiled by Dr Dion Georgiou, who sourced suggestions for the collaborative playlist – available below – via Twitter.

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