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Rethinking Visual Access

28 October 2021

Former curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum and professor of Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford, Laura Peers is one of the 2021 Isabel Bader Fellows in Textile Conservation and Research. Her focus is on developing processes for enhanced digital access to Indigenous textile collections for remote communities. “These collections are not just objects, they are thought of as ancestors or elders, and Indigenous-informed research is about visiting with them, listening to them, watching and learning from them,” says Peers.

Most Indigenous cultural items were removed from Indigenous communities and reside  in museums far from home. “Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners need access to ancestral items to reclaim traditional knowledge and reconnect with historical textile-making practices and museums need to make that possible,” says Peers. Indigenous-led online visits can supplement in-person visits and provide access for people unable to travel.

Portrait of Laura Peers. Photo: Garrett Elliott

Laura Peers and Anne-Marie  Guérin demonstrate the multiple-camera setup used to provide visits with Indigenous ancestors in Agnes’s care.

Her work opens dialogues between Indigenous communities and museums and was activated through a remote gathering with a group of Métis, Cree-Métis and Anishinaabe artists and settler allies to test the close-looking online visiting technique and have a visit with some of the ancestors in the Agnes collection. “The group asked many questions and Graduate Intern in Textile Conservation and Research Anne-Marie Guérin will work with the ancestors in the conservation lab to provide answers,” says Peers. “That’s part of the research too: Indigenous researchers and artists should be able to ask questions and museum staff and conservators should be responsive. We were supported by Sebastian De Line, Associate Curator, Indigenous Care and Relations, who provided traditional spiritual care for ancestors and staff.” Peers is the first Fellow to work with Indigenous textiles at Agnes.

2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the Isabel Bader Fellowship in Textile Conservation and Research, generously supported by Dr Isabel Bader. In celebration of a successful decade, two candidates received Fellowships, both of whom bring ground-breaking, decolonial perspectives to textile history and new models of community-based access to museum holdings. Dr Laura Peers and Jason Cyrus began their fellowships in January 2021, both ably assisted in their research by Art Conservation alum Anne-Marie Guérin as the Isabel Bader Graduate Intern in Textile Conservation and Research.

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