P157 – African Arts on the Web. Exploring the Stakes for Online African Museums and Collections
10 July, 09:00-10:30

Galitzine-Loumpet Alexandra / ANR EsCA
Celis Abigail / University of Michigan


The number of websites that serve as museums or as exhibitions is multiplying. This growth has been changing the aesthetic, pedagogical, and touristic scope and offerings of the current museological landscape. One can now find virtual museums without existing collections, or collections that exist as digital imprints, or even commercial websites that imitate a museum style. These digital mises-en-scenes open new modes of reception and consumption of African art in the West, through the selections of artwork and the relationships between text/image. However, the effects and the agents of these online museum spaces have been little studied. This online presence also concerns the websites of African museums or presented as African. The digital format helps these museum reach a larger audience, but since the websites are usually developed and hosted in Europe, they reactivate national and local stories through images preserved outside of the national territory. In addition, substituting real collections with dematerialized ones reinvents the existing paradigm of tradition/modernity, a move that once again refashions objects via normative, previously established frameworks, masking their internal tensions and rifts.
In both cases, the web is an unavoidable arena for interrogating the stakes and the tensions inherent in representing African arts and collections. This panel seeks to contribute to this analysis through a interdisciplinary approach to the “museum as sign”.

Arts africains sur le web. Enjeux des musées et collections d’Afrique sur internet
La multiplication de sites web de musées et d’expositions constitue un fait majeur du paysage muséal contemporain, contribuant à l’élargissement de son périmètre et de son offre, esthétique, didactique ou touristique. Il existe dorénavant des musées virtuels sans collections propres, des collections réelles à empreinte numérique ou encore des sites de vente en ligne imitant des musées. Par le choix des œuvres, les rapports images/textes, les mises en scène virtuelles instituent de nouveaux modes de réception et de consommation des arts d’Afrique en Occident dont les effets comme les acteurs ont peu été étudiés. Cette présence en ligne concerne également les sites internet et musées virtuels africains ou présentés comme tels. Valorisés par le médium mais souvent réalisés et domiciliés en Europe, ces sites réactualisent les récits nationaux ou locaux par des images d’œuvres souvent conservés hors du territoire national. La substitution entre collections réelles et dématérialisées réinvente le paradigme tradition/modernité et de nouveaux objets au travers de cadres normatifs stabilisés, masquant les hiatus internes. Dans les deux cas, l’espace web constitue une arène incontournable pour interroger les enjeux et tensions des représentations des collections et patrimoine d’Afrique. Ce panel voudrait contribuer à cette réflexion sur le «musée-signe» dans une perspective pluridisciplinaire et comparée.

Paper 1

Celis Abigail / University of Michigan

Object of the Month: The Circulation of Image-Objects through Digital Networks

As museums try to more fully use their collections and build relationships with visitors, many reach out to the public through email newsletters and updates via social media. These updates often include practical information such as opening dates for new exhibits, upcoming events, internship openings, advertising for museum memberships and other fundraising programs. But in addition to these more logistical communications, some museums also include editorial content that personalizes the inner workings of the museum. These might be interviews with staff or artists, stories from behind the scenes, or, as will be discussed in the paper, a spotlight on a particular object. What are the effect of this “object of the month” model that selects one work in isolation to present to its virtual audience, via image and text? What kind of relationship between audience and object does this model assume and / or encourage? As digital copies of material objects migrate through online networks, how do the “social biography” of these objects change? These are the questions that will be approached in my paper, with a particular focus on the consequences for museums and collections of African art and ethnography.

Paper 2

Silva Rita de Cassia Maia da / UFBa

The digital museum of carnival Krewe Ile Aiyé : The interactive potential of Web 2.0 to Community Museums design

We are creating a museum that explores the possibilities of WEB 2.0 digital information and communication technologies ( TDCI ), developing an adaptation of the “system – museum” to digital platforms, to reach the compliance with all the operational chain based on the ICOM definition of museums.
Advances in TDCI are transforming the way of design museums. The Web 2.0 offers a set of tools whose main characteristic is to offer greater freedom to interactivity, creating the figure of the ” user – protagonist “. On the ” museum – platform ” that we are designing, users can visit , opine , assign and interpret contents through their profile, and also, interact and build relationships with other users.
Community appeal and the aesthetic value of the cultural production of the Carnival Krewe Ile Aiyê provides justification to that applied research, focused on sharing and disseminate the image and memory of that Afro-Brazilian association, and therefore, contributes to the acquisition of new knowledge on the scientific field of Museology.

Paper 3

Laely Thomas / Museum of Ethnography at the University of Zurich

Alternative forms of museums and museology in Africa ? Current contestations of social and cultural imaginaries

What is the role of museums, their collections and web presence in the profound political reconfigurations underway across the African continent? Which concepts and narratives are pursued by national and regional museums today, and how do they present themselves online? What is the significance of international cooperations, initiatives and agents within Africa as well as on a transcontinental level? How far do they contest the predominant museological practice and result in new curatorial forms and narratives ?
Museums have ambiguous relations with the powers in place as well as with their own role in the construction of social, political and cultural imaginaries, furthered in recent years by international linkages and transnational logics. In the last twenty years, the institution of the arts and culture museum has dealt productively with its collections, exhibitions, research activities and online presence in the worldwide web. This was closely connected with the question of interpretational sovereignty, reflecting who is exhibiting what in which way. Museums are not seen only as an expression of dominant ideologies any more, they open themselves increasingly as “contact zones” to external stakeholders. Supported by the “postcolonial studies” and the claims of a “new museology”, transcontinental linkages are getting more and more relevant to the digital mises-en-scènes and the museological practice in general, contesting the previous ways of curating and exhibiting.

Paper 4

Horta Paula / Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon

The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive: a storytelling platform and public site of personal memories

In 2012 the Google Cultural Institute launched the Nelson Mandela Digital Archive (available at http://archive.nelsonmandela.org), classifying it as “a storytelling platform”. The online archive consists of artifacts, documents and audiovisual materials curated into seven interactive exhibits covering Mandela’s early life, his years in prison, the negotiation for democracy, the presidential years and his retirement. The focus of this paper is the exhibit titled “My Moment with a Legend”, which, unlike the other exhibits, relies on photographs and personal testimonies to produce a narrative of Nelson Mandela’s human and political qualities. It juxtaposes photographs of Mandela, taken between 1990 and 2010, and the portraitees’ oral and/or written testimonies of the emotional experience of meeting or working with Mandela. Drawing on Paul Ricoeur’s memory theory and Gillian Bennett’s understanding of “contemporary legends”, this paper examines the mnemonic function of the photographs used in this exhibit, and considers how the personal memories associated to the images evolve into a narrative of Nelson Mandela as a legend.

Paper 5

Morin Floriane / Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève

De Ceuninck Grégoire / Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève

eMEG, le catalogue électronique des expositions du MEG appliqué au parcours « Afrique »

Pour accompagner l’ouverture d’une exposition permanente en 2014, Le MEG a développé un système d’information spécifique aux 1035 objets des cinq continents sélectionnés par les conservateurs de l’institution. Il permet d’assurer la gestion de ces objets, d’enregistrer leurs descriptions scientifiques et Il permet d’assurer la gestion de ces objets, d’enregistrer leurs descriptions scientifiques et d’associer des contenus multimédia.
Ce système d’information contextualise des ensembles d’objets, réunis ou non par une scénographie mais partageant des thématiques historiques ou anthropologiques communes. Il intègre une interface publique appelée eMEG. Gratuite, elle permet aux visiteurs de consulter, depuis les espaces d’exposition ou à distance, les notices multimédia des objets, de découvrir les thématiques transversales qui les relient, de localiser les objets dans les salles, de sauvegarder des références dans un espace personnel, de partager leurs découvertes sur les réseaux sociaux..
Cet outil en phase de rodage est désormais exploité à la fois par l’équipe scientifique du MEG, responsable de son contenu, et par le public de l’institution. Quels sont les bénéfices de ce nouvel apport documentaire en constante évolution et quelles sont les limites et les écueils d’un outil innovant tel que l’eMEG, malgré sa puissance technologique ? Ces pistes de réflexion seront développées à l’appui de de son application aux collections Afrique du MEG.

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