Learning through Participation

July 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Ribbons of Remembrance at Clayton Jackson McGhie vigil, June 2013, Duluth, Minnesota

Ribbons of Remembrance at the Clayton Jackson McGhie vigil, June 15, 2013, Duluth, Minnesota (Attendees tied ribbons to this fence adjacent to the graves of the three men lynched in 1920)

In my research I’m blending approaches from the fields of memorial culture* and public art* for a holistic perspective as I study how people commemorate lynching violence in the U.S. To uncover social significance I attend memorial events and interview artists and various community members. My direct involvement with these contemporary practices encourages me to also ponder the role of the scholar in the production of culture. When I meet with folks, I realize that my presence and interest in their work may influence their understanding of the memorial process. Because I’m focusing on the social, I also need to indicate my degree of participation and people’s reactions to my actions in a thoughtful manner.
——–
A few weeks ago I presented a paper* at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Annual Remembrance event in Duluth, Minnesota. Members of the board asked me to address how the memorial operates as a sacred space.  This event was my first talk at a memorial site and I was honored to participate in the ceremony.   Although I’ve presented my research at several venues, this occasion posed its own challenges. I couldn’t rely on the visual comparison method via PowerPoint that academic art historians often employ. I was outside in the memorial space. So my experience discussing objects for museum visitors proved helpful in this circumstance.  I focused on the history of the lynching, the community’s present activities, and the physical space of the memorial. The studies of cultural geographer Kenneth Foote* and cultural theorist Marita Sturken” helped me to highlight how the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial functions as hallowed ground.
For the sake of time, I didn’t delve into current discussions in memorial studies centered on “victim memorials” or the ambiguities associated with the concept of community. (I will wrestle with those complex issues at a later time.) I aimed to provide a balanced, contextualized assessment. Also, I spoke with reporters about how the Duluth memorial differs from other commemorative practices.  While my participation did identify the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial as noteworthy, I tried not to steer any of the committee members’ decisions about the memorial. Afterwards, several residents thanked me for providing this overview and specific attention to the spatial aspects of Duluth’s memorial.
——–
The process of evolving into a scholar entails identifying one’s allegiances, values, and mindset. Through my interdisciplinary orientation, I’ve realized that I’m not interested in traditional notions of the scholar as someone who tells individuals and communities how they should memorialize persons or events. Instead, I understand my position as providing historical context, demonstrating similarities and differences between memorials, sparking discussions, facilitating the memorial-making processes by helping communities discover related projects, and learning from the actions of communities and my participation in commemorations. For me, research is about collaboration.

*PDF copy of my address “The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial as Hallowed Ground” – Autry-CJMM as Hallowed Ground-remembrance event 6-14-2013
I would like to thank the following organizations for supporting my recent research trip to Duluth, Minnesota: The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Board and the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware.

A Few Key References
*
Memorial Studies– Savage, Young, and Winter encourage scholars to consider social issues

  • Kurt Savage, “History, Memory, and Monuments: An Overview of the Scholarly Literature on Commemoration, http://www.nps.gov/history/history/resedu/savage.htm.
  • James Edward Young, “America’s Holocaust: Memory and the Politics of Identity,” in The Americanization of the Holocaust, edited by H. Flanzbaum, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University, 1999.
  • Jay M. Winter, Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the 20th Century, New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2006.

*Public Art

  • Tom Finkelpearl, Dialogues in Public Art, Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2000.
  • Tom Finkelpearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, Durham, NC: Duke University, 2013.
  • Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002.
  • Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art, Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2004.

*Cultural Geography and Collective Memory

  • Kenneth Foote, Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, Austin, TX: University of Texas, 2003, 7-33.
  • Marita Sturken, Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero, Durham, NC: Duke University, 2007, 200.
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Entry filed under: Memorials/Monuments, Public Art. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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