There was a discussion about how unaware or uninformed some curators at museums can seem or be? Which rose interest in questions, whether politics or cultural sensitivity are to blame for the noted ignorance? As neutral or unbiased museums try to remain, do the local culture and current political views impact and lead the curation and design of the museums?
Conventionally, museums are public institutions that display factual, accurate, unbiased representations of culture (Yorks, 2009). Still, as an example, a museum in Japan and a museum in South Korea wouldn’t represent the engagements and invasions of the Japanese Empire in a similar matter. Possibly, one will present it as a conflict and colonisation by a powerful dynasty, and the other will represent it as massacre or genocide, naming it the ‘Japanese war crimes,’ while commemorating the deaths of nearly 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people (Rummel, 2002).
In her article, The Museum as a Way of Seeing, Svetlana Alpers, a well-regarded art historian, discusses the capabilities of museums to bring attention “to otherwise ignored objects” (Yorks, 2009). Upon entering the crowded Middle Eastern section of the British Museum, The Cyrus Cylinder is placed among many other objects from ancient Iran. The cylinder is a 22cm long clay from the Achaemenid Dynasty in Babylon, modern-day Iraq, which dates to 539BC. Written in a Babylonian script, it presents the following text (Fig.1) about the last King of Babylon (British Museum, n.d.).
The cylinder could be considered one of the ignored objects at the museum. Considering everything that has been happening in our world today, it can be argued that it is important to signify the value of this magnificent object. This small piece of clay proves the existence of a peaceful king with liberal views, who rebuilt and restored temples. He allowed people to worship whatever and whoever they wished to worship; terminated manual labour and slavery on the free kingdom, and returned their previously deported gods and individuals (British Museum, n.d.) back to their towns and cities. Although the Cyrus Cylinder is carefully placed in the centre of the room, directly visible upon entering (Fig. 2), the overcrowdings of the hall along with the lack of signage, and possibly ‘bad lighting’ reduces the artefact’s recognition, making it insignificant (Fig. 3). Isn't it a shame to possess such a valuable object but not be able to communicate its true value with thousands of visitors every day?
Fig. 2: The placement of the Cyrus Cylinder at the Middle Eastern section of the British Museum.
This short time-laps shows the placement of of The Cyrus Cylinder, its visibility in the hall, and the visitors' engagement and interaction with the artefact.
Ale, A. (2015) The Museum as a Way of Seeingby Svetlana Alpers. [Online]. 27 April 2015. Seeing and Perceiving in the Modern Art Museum. Available from: https://andrianale33.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/the-museum-as-a-way-of-seeing-by-svetlana-alpers/ [Accessed: 15 May 2017].
Boroditsky, L. (2009) How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think? [Online]. 6 November 2009. How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think? Available from: https://www.edge.org/conversation/lera_boroditsky-how-does-our-language-shape-the-way-we-think [Accessed: 28 April 2017].
British Museum (n.d.) The Cyrus Cylinder. [Online]. British Museum. Available from: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=327188&partId=1 [Accessed: 20 April 2017].
Rummel, R.J. (2002) Statistics Of Japanese Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources. [Online]. 23 November 2002. Statistics of Japanese Genocide and Mass Murder. Available from: https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.CHAP3.HTM [Accessed: 3 May 2017].
The J. Paul Getty Museum (2013) The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning (Getty Villa Exhibitions). [Online]. 2013. The J. Paul Getty Museum . Available from: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/cyrus_cylinder/ [Accessed: 5 May 2017].
Dhwty (2014) The Cyrus Cylinder and the ancient proclamation of human rights. [Online]. 10 November 2014. Ancient Origins. Available from: http://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/cyrus-cylinder-and-ancient-proclamation-human-rights-002311 [Accessed: 15 May 2017].