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Expressing ourselves

Australia Expressing ourselves

Expressing ourselves

Torrens Parade Ground,
Victoria Drive, Adelaide SA 5000

Australia

https://medium.com/interactions-with-history/expressing-ourselves-creating-a-deaf-exhibition-965872d4188d#_ftn3

‘Expressing ourselves’: creating a Deaf exhibition, Corinne Ball, Curator, Migration Museum, 2020


"In September 2020 the History Trust of South Australia’s Migration Museum was proud to welcome over a hundred members of the South Australian Deaf community to the opening of the community-driven exhibition Expressing ourselves: being Deaf in SA in our Forum gallery.

This opening was the culmination of two years of relationship building, negotiation, discovery, learning and hard work on the part of the Deaf exhibition development committee and Migration Museum curators. How and why did this exhibition come about, and what did we learn as museum professionals along the way?

(..)

Working with communities has been central to museological and historical practice at the Migration Museum. Key to this has been our Forum community gallery, which has hosted over 120 different communities over the last thirty years. The Forum provides a space where community groups mount their own exhibitions within the institutional frame of the Migration Museum, while providing a community perspective. In recent years we have been focusing our work with communities or groups which are emerging, or which have previously been under-represented. Communities work with curators to identify the message they wish to transmit and the stories they wish to tell and curators aid in organising design, media, and presentation, as well as co-creating public programs to increase community reach.

(...)

Before that first meeting [with Deaf with community members who might be interested in developing a Forum exhibition] my (somewhat reductive and naive) thought was that, similar to the Deaf exhibitions overseas mentioned above, the Forum exhibition might be about Auslan and its role in Deaf life.

As a hearing person this made sense to me and seemed to fit with the Forum as a place where many linguistically diverse groups have been represented.

However, at the first meeting, the group, comprising several Deaf community members in the 50+ bracket, indicated that they had quite different ideas for an exhibition. They had a wealth of knowledge and information they wanted to share about how the Deaf community had been formed in South Australia, their ‘pioneers and personalities’, and about activism in the community surrounding the formation and continuation of the Deaf Club.

Being able to present this important Deaf history to a predominantly hearing audience was a big deal: as Migration Museum Director Mandy Paul has said, for community groups, particularly those who have come from a position of marginalisation, seeing themselves represented in a state institution is often profoundly validating. Thus, I had to truly understand and digest that while Auslan is a big part of Deaf identity, of course it’s the people, relationships, and personal histories that make Deaf culture, and make Deaf culture significant to both a Deaf and hearing audience."

mini DeafinSA

(..)

Gradually the exhibition took shape with a message that the Deaf community in SA has been active, connected, supportive, and self-directed for over 150 years.

In common with many previous Forum displays, school days, sport, work and play were featured, as well as a video timeline which told the 130-year journey of the Deaf Club.

Some video content, borrowed with permission from an existing web series on Deaf culture, was delivered in Auslan, with captions and an added audio track — a first for us in the museum. This configuration of Auslan-first delivery is more accessible and respectful for people whose first language is Auslan, and is not yet general practice in many museums. 

For the community and the museum the benefits have far surpassed the financial and human resources invested. Partnering with Deaf Can:Do to host their annual Deaf Community Day at the exhibition launch helped draw over a hundred community members for the event, many of whom had not previously visited the museum.

They were delighted to see their history on view, to recognise faces, and to share their own stories. For the museum, this was our first public program of any scale since the start of COVID-19, so this was a big day for all of us. Committee members gave tours of the display to their friends, family, and peers in Auslan, running at capacity with 16 tours across the afternoon. One wrote afterwards that ‘I had difficulty pulling them out the room as they wanted to stay there longer than the agreed 15 mins tour!’

 Deaf knowledge, community, and activism were represented in the exhibition

Quotes:

  • the past can hurt

    From: Walt Disney, The Lion King

  • "Beyond works of art and objects, museums collect shared heritage, memories and living cultures as well as what we call intangible collectables."
    Source: We are Museums
  • "The Deaf community is international. What binds Deaf people, despite their different national sign languages, is their shared visual communication, history, cultural activities, and the need for a Deaf “space” where people come together."

    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • "For many members of the Deaf community their shared history is both personal and social. Deaf people will have gone to the same school, in many cases boarding schools where most of their younger lives will have been spent together, and then met again at their Deaf clubs, Deaf social events, reunions and other more personal events.
    One of the first things a Deaf person will often ask on meeting, before asking your name, is what school or Deaf club you go to. Making this connection is an important part of any greeting, as it will then help an individual to understand what shared history or people in common you may have."
    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • "Opening ourselves to the Deaf community, listening to and respecting them as co-creators and experts telling the stories they want told, makes our practice richer, and has ongoing positive effects for the community.
    These embryonic relationships hopefully encourage Deaf people to feel welcome in our space — it’s their space too.
    For both side, communities and museum professionals, while genuinely, openly and truly committing to working together can be time-consuming, it repays any investment many-fold."
    Corinne Ball: Expressing ourselves’: creating a Deaf exhibition", 2020
  • "The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. This is based on the principle that citizens are not just consumers of cultural capital created by others; we have agency and the right to contribute through culture to the wider good of society."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "And yet, even within a large and, in many ways, traditional organization such as this (Trøndelag Folk Museum, Norway), the museum's encounter with Deaf culture contributed to profound changes and a process, still underway, which challenges our own understanding of what a museum is today, our role in society and our obligations towards more diverse audiences than those we had previously engaged or even recognized."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: https://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums-change-lives/
  • "After all, we are all of us explorers, and we all have much to bring to each other from our own
    journeyings."
    Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.
  • "Access to and participation in culture is a basic human right. Everyone has a right to representation and agency in museums, and communities should have the power to decide how they engage."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "Nina Simon has described true inclusion in a museum context as occurring when museums value the diversity in their audience, value those individuals’ potential and contributions, when they actively link those diverse people across differences, and when the organisation reaches out with generosity and curiosity at the core.
    On a practical level this sort of museum practice would see widespread inclusion of people with disabilities in the planning of museum exhibitions, on museum boards and steering committees, and working in curatorial roles."
    In: Corinne Ball: Expressing Ourselves, 2020
  • "Deaf people have always had a sense of their history as it was being passed down in stories told by generations of students walking in the hallways of their residential schools and by others who congregated in their clubs, ran associations, attended religious services, and played in sporting events.
    With these activities, the deaf community exhibited hallmarks of agency — an effort to maintain their social, cultural, and political autonomy amid intense pressure to conform as hearing, speaking people."
    BRIAN H. GREENWALD AND JOSEPH J. MURRAY, in: Sign Language Studies, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2016
  • "What has become clear is that museums don’t just function as custodians of the past anymore; instead, they have embraced their responsibility towards the communities of the present: a responsibility to represent them, to speak to them, and to be open to dialogue with them."
    Tim Deakin, August 2021
  • “If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.”
    Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
  • "It was only during the past decade that recognition of the importance of preserving Deaf history has emerged. In the main, Deaf heritage, culture and folklore has been passed down from generation to generation via the medium of sign language and fingerspelling. (..) It is also vital that the history of Deaf people is made available to future generations, especially Deaf schoolchildren as part of their history lessons."
    A. Murray Holmes,  in: Cruel Legacy, an introduction of Deaf people in history, by A.F. Dimmock, 1993
  • "The Finnish Museum of the Deaf) was founded by deaf people, and, thus, its task has been to strengthen their identity and historical communality.

    Most of our materials have a connection to the key experiences that generations of deaf people have shared. These are important in understanding the past and keeping the collective memory alive."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826–1863)
  • "Until the fall semester of 1986, the history department at Gallaudet University had never before offered a course in the history of deaf people.
    In the 122 years, to that point, since the founding of the university, which was specifically intended for the education of deaf peoples, no one had ever taught a course about this very group of people.
    In all of those years the history department had offered courses on a wide range of topics but never deaf history. "
    ENNIS, WILLIAM T., et al. “A Conversation: Looking Back on 25 Years of A Place of Their Own.” Sign Language Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, 2016, pp. 26–41. 
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: Museums Change Lives
  • "Histories have for too long emphasized the controversies over communication methods and the accomplishments of hearing people in the education of deaf students, with inadequate attention paid to those deaf individuals who created communication bridges and distinguished themselves as change agents in their respective field of endeavour."
    from: Harry G. Lang, Bonny Meath-Lang: Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, 1995
  • "As recently as the 1970s, deaf history did not exist. There were available sketches of various hearing men, primarily teachers, who were credited with bringing knowledge and enlightenment to generations of deaf children, but deaf adults were absent."

    In: Preface to: "Deaf History Unvailed, Interpretations from the New Scholarship". John Vickrey van Cleve, editor
    Publisher: Gallaudet University Press, 1993
  • "Inclusion is moving from “we tolerate your presence” to “we WANT you here with us”.
    Jillian Enright in The Social Model of Disability, 2021
  • "This (Deaf) Museum is not intended as a casual show, to be seen once and forgotten. Its pretensions are nobler; it has a humanitarian aim. By its solid and tangible evidences, making history memorable and attractive by illustration, it serves a double purpose: to dispel ignorance and prejudice regarding the deaf, and to raise the victims of this prejudice and ignorance to their true level in society."
    The British Deaf Monthly, Vol. VI (p.265) 1897. In: Deaf Museums and Archival Centres, 2006
  • “Stories of disability are largely absent from museum displays. Where they appear, they often reflect deeply entrenched, negative attitudes towards physical and mental difference. Research reveals that museums don’t simply reflect attitudes; they are active in shaping conversations about difference.
    Projects created with disabled people show that museums hold enormous potential to shape more progressive, accurate and respectful ways of understanding human diversity. Why wouldn’t we take up this opportunity? ”
    Richard Sandell, co-director, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester
  • “One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one-hundred stories, you will be strong.”
    Chris Cleave in "Little Bee", 2008
  • "The most significant function of museums is as centres for cultural democracy, where children and adults learn through practical experience that we all have cultural rights. Having the opportunity to create, and to give to others, may be one of our greatest sources of fulfilment. Culture is everywhere and is created by everyone."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "An important matter for any minority group is that written documents in public archives are often drawn up by the majority group and do not always reflect a minority as it sees itself. Thus, preserving sign language narration is of the utmost importance and a challenge to those working in the field of Deaf history."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826–1863)
  • "Deaf mute, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired – the choices are many and not without consequences. Words have many meanings, they convey attitudes and prejudices and may hurt, even when used in a well-intended context."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013