Curatorial Conversations VII

We are keen to sustain an online conversation about the intended shape of our new museum as far as we can into 2012, responding to and inviting response from those involved in workshops held as part of our recent community consultation, those who have recently published relevant reflections – particularly the contributors to Coleborne and MacKinnon’s 2011 volume Exhibiting Madness in Museums – and as many of our blog readers as are willing and able to participate.

In Exhibiting Madness, David Wright and Nathan Flis write of contemporary “commemoration rituals” inspired by a shift towards “historicising the mental hospital” in ways that “differ in fundamental ways from previous methods of remembering the lunatic asylum, such as scholarly books on individual hospitals or the ubiquitous asylum museum run by volunteer staff and patients”.

They argue that these rituals are inspired, at least in part, by the embrace of “what might be seen as a subtle new form of anti-psychiatry, where motifs borrowed from memorialisations of the Holocaust, the First World War and American slavery are adapted to the political aspirations of ‘psychiatric survivors’ organisations.”

“Aided by a sympathetic press eager to write about the ‘gothic’ conditions in institutions”, they continue, these initiatives “are notable for the inclusion of senior figures of the psychiatric establishment who, for reasons of fundraising and political sensitivities, have paradoxically embraced problematic narratives of their own profession’s past…The ‘dark past’ of institutional psychiatry is then repackaged by the psychiatric elite to show how far the psychiatric profession has progressed.”1

[to be continued]

1 D. Wright and N. Flis, ‘A Grave Injustice: The Mental Hospital and Shifting Sites of Memory’, in Catherine Coleborne and Dolly MacKinnon eds., Exhibiting Madness in Museums: Remembering Psychiatry through Collections and Display (Routledge, 2011), page 102.


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