Exhibition Curatorial StatemenT

Mending the Museum

In reflecting upon writing a curatorial statement, we wanted to stray away from a highly academic or inaccessible text. We decided to talk to each other about how we felt about museums, and this conversation emerged.


How do you feel about museums?


I have a lot of feelings. I was reflecting on how I felt in those spaces when I was a kid, always curious to observe things there. But I often felt left out of the conversation, never really understanding what things meant or what was going on. I think that as I got educated on the arts, I began to understand more about them and I have felt extremely disappointed in their role and the colonial legacies they uphold by collecting objects – a lot of times unethically from other countries– and objects that have spiritual significance and cultural meaning that should not be trapped and should be used. So generally, I’m disappointed with them and want to see more of these spaces being more accountable. How do you feel about them?


I feel a lot of things as well, because the way I feel about museums has shifted during these past years. In my case I didn’t have much of a relationship with them when I was little. I didn’t have access to them because I couldn't afford going. So, my first memory of one is from a high school trip to an art museum, getting me very curious about the objects that were inside. At the same time, I felt very removed from it all. When I started my studies in the arts and learned more about museums I was a volunteer in one, which gave me a type of access I didn’t have before, as I could somehow move more freely there. I also got to familiarize a bit with the roles and the dynamics within museums, also with recurrent institutional issues. Sometimes I feel tokenized, and question how it is that I got access to certain things. So, this combination of formal education and hands-on tasks provided me a new perspective that changed the idealized image I had about the museum, as an institution that has knowledge, culture and has these beautiful objects that they care about. At some point, I realized how complex everything is within a museum. I got disappointed as well since I used to want to belong in these spaces. Now I don’t feel that need anymore. I’m over it.


I agree with you in that museums give an air of being “official spaces” that we are supposed to aspire to, and as cultural workers it makes sense that at one point or another, we wanted to be a part of these spaces. And this leads to my next question: what do we think they can do better and how can they serve us?


There is a lot that they can do better. Starting by the fact that they have a space and many objects to work with – because they are kind of hoarders. To me, the museum is still a place of potential as it provides a space for encounters. How did objects get there and who gets to look at what or who? But understanding them as a contact zone – including conflict too – I think we can point at what they can do better, which is creating opportunities for meaningful encounters, also some kind of reparations that should be done historically in these spaces. I remember a reading by Willie Ermine, about ethical spaces of engagement. I think this applies too to how ethics work within museums, as something that should be and can be worked differently. I think that art spaces sometimes allow us the potential to explore things, to integrate people. I also think about access and the respect museums should show to the different communities museums interact with, like the communities a museum is located in. How do they invite them in and give access to the objects? What kind of relationship are they trying to rebuild or to heal? How to make justice to the collections they have? Art museums also have a debt in the cultural sector with minorities that are not allowed to be in these spaces. Museums can start generating these kinds of relationships. What’s your take on what can museums do better?


I want to see the repatriation of a lot of objects. A lot of objects don’t belong in the museum point blank. That is something that I really want to see soon and hopefully in our lifetime.With that comes the value of accountability. I want to see museums be more accountable, and communicate the ethics of where the objects were taken from and be more transparent about those things. I think a lot of times museums hide this type of information to uphold their status, and uphold their colonial values. So, a huge thing museums can do now is be more up front about the provenance of the objects, and about what they are doing to connect those objects to the communities they come from. Access is important for me as well. Some museums I visited have felt a lot more accessible to me, giving me a feeling of agency, by allowing me to touch the object for example, or where I found more interactive ways to engage with it, or where I was able to understand the didactics that describe the pieces with more plain language. I think most of the time with the gatekeeping of objects, the discouragement to touch or inquire more questions about them, make museums remain inaccessible. And those are some things that I would like to see more of. Basically, for the doors to be more open, and for more exchange to happen within those spaces. I think museums owe us that. Our tax dollar goes towards those spaces, and I feel that they should feel more equitable and be accountable to us, the public.


I like that idea that is not only about opening the doors, but about what that access means and how museums with their curation could invite people to move within these spaces, and how that type of mediation can provide a sense of agency to visitors, who at the end of the day are the ones keeping these institutions alive and relevant. If museums are not serving communities then what are they for? Sometimes they become insular and removed from them. But why are we forming this duo? Why are we still trying to hold on to the museum? In a way we are not fully detached from these entities.


For sure. I think that maybe what we are trying to do is what we aspire for more museums to do, which is provide that access and education to communities. I think because both want to provide opportunities for more people to engage with the collections. Maybe because we have seen the vaults before and we know the possibility that comes from that and the curiosity and creativity that it inspired in us. One of the things we wanted to do was extend that access to more artists that have a contemporary lens and that have the same critical values that we have. I love the idea of paying artists to critique the museum within those very spaces and for the museum to be open to showing that critical work, I think it says a lot. And I believe that through education and through having these conversations with youth and kids through workshops, we are hopefully allowing them to feel a sense of agency in these spaces. Allowing them to understand this critical view of how we can visit museums and understand the problems that exist within them. At the same time use what we’ve learned to create art. I think maybe the reason we are not fully detached from that space is because, at least for someone like me who has worked in a museum, I feel a sort of responsibility to help make things a bit better, just because I feel we deserve more. How about you?


In that sense, I feel the same. It’s more about the responsibility. To me museums are still places that hold a lot of power and I do feel myself responsible, as someone who has engaged in and chose this path, to make them accountable. Someone has to do the work in these spaces. A while ago, I heard someone saying this in a difficult talk about museums, that we should let museums die and as cultural workers we should help them die with dignity. In a certain way that is what I’m trying to do is help the museum die, like a mushroom transforming and cleaning decay, fruiting and building something from there, which maybe in the future, centuries later, won’t necessarily be called a museum. I think it is worth trying to generate those changes, turning it into something that could mean more and could respond to the needs of actual society. Helping the museum die is also helping old systems die, and that is part of what I see us doing. We are trying to uproot what is not necessary there, which is not an easy work because of the emotional load particularly placed on minorities, as we are the ones expected to bring that type of change. But I see this as a temporary role that we are able to navigate as a duo rather than doing it alone. In this sense, for Mending the Museum, trying to mend is not about putting back together the museum but mending what can be done better.


Definitely. I feel that we have a unique role. Personally I could not go back to work full time at a museum, that was killing me slowly. As freelance curators, it is nice that we are able to enter these spaces as we wish but at the same time serve as a buffer between artists and the museums, so we don’t continue perpetuating the violence that many museums ultimately put towards the people they employ. I’m happy we are able to provide that buffer. I also think that as you mentioned, museums are spaces with power, access and money, so part of our role is divert those resources to the right places and to the pocket of artist who are already doing this work, and that are critiquing these colonial legacies, problematic histories, and bringing fresh and new perspectives into what the future of these objects can be. Bringing their own lived experiences into them.


And that’s where our focus on education departments mostly comes from. We are indeed a curatorial duo as we have these projects related to research-creation and exhibitions, but at the same time these departments and staff are who we reach out to at museums. Why would you say we find education kind of our anchor within museums?


For me, art education saved my life and I feel really called to spread that energy into other people that may be looking for that. I think a lot of people are creative and have curiosity and I hope that through some of our workshops they are able to experience different techniques they hadn’t had the chance to. Learning new skills can be really exciting for young people that maybe want to go onto the arts and pursue those interests. I think too, that providing these critical workshops are a way to bridge those barriers we feel the museums currently have. Like not allowing people to touch the object or not providing information about where things come from, I think that through these experiences people are able to engage with the museum in a way that gives them more agency… at least that’s what I hope for.

During the trajectory of this project, which started with a research-creation process in partnership with two local museums, the main challenge that the invited artists faced was the lack of information available about the artworks provenance, the artist(s) who made it, and the processes of making. All artists exercised their artistic agency to breach these difficult challenges, through creating speculative stories that blur the lines between fact and fiction, challenging colonial historical retellings, and piecing together information through their creative imaginations. Here are some of our notes, highlights and reflections on the works:

Plants/Natural Life

kaya joan’s and denirée isabel’s works attempt to creatively trace the lives of plant materials employed to make their selected museum items, a floral embroidered fragment and a bark cloth respectively. By reconnecting with the natural resources, in this case the plants that made possible their creation, they reveal the interconnection between humans, the more-than-human and objects. In their video, kaya speculates about the indigo plant used to produce the dye in one of the embroidery thread hues. By collaging internet AI generated images and historical facts, kaya gives voice to indigo as a smart being conscious of its existence and impact in human relations, particularly its connection to the transatlantic slave trade and extractivism. On the other hand, denirée’s interactive map intertwines her own personal story of her ancestral makeup from her Ancestry DNA test, with that of the possible trees the cloth’s bark may have come from, tracing both the artist and the cloth’s roots back to the Venezuelan landscape. denirée invites viewers to click on different map locations, read, and play audio clips of family memories. Through these digital pieces, the personhood of plants is exposed and reactivated on the textile items.


A way to generate bridges across times is to imagine possible pasts or futures, those yet untold stories. Lan “Florence” Yee’s work employs speculative fiction to explore the journey of a cut sleeve from a Chinese garment. Along Lan’s video, the sleeve narrates the story of its changing owners and the places it has been. With a satirical tone and imagery, but without lack of tenderness, Lan clashes facts with fiction to give visibility to overlapping and erased stories of queerness and diasporic experiences. With a different but also playful approach, Habiba El-Sayed’s video game prototypes reproduce an earthenware house effigy from Jalisco, Mexico. With this work she speculates on the kind of worlds inside each of its four chambers, while experimenting with potentially meaningful and respectful ways to engage with cultural items from a culture different from one’s own. Habiba inserts themes of love and community, food and generational recipes, storytelling, music and celebration to speculate about how this game could be played, a proposal to counteract mainstream games of war and exploration that tend to reverberate a colonial mindset.


Kendra Yee’s work follows the history of a contemporary ceramic drawstring bag made by artist Marilyn Levine, which appears on the artist’s 2005 website in a list of missing artworks the artist sought to find and that coincidentally, Kendra found in the Gardiner Museum’s collection. She retells the story of the object through two gifs, demonstrating the object’s appearance on both websites, and through a ceramic tile she made that tells the story through images. Juan Pablo Hernandez Gutierrez’s video work overlaps a 3D printing file code with a three-dimensional render of a Quimbaya terracotta earthenware object from the Gardiner Museum’s collection, speaking to practices of imitation, counterfeiting, bootlegging and 'guaqueria' (looting) already present in his artistic practice. Through a QR code, he freely shares the 3D printing code, creating a public resource for recreation of the object, opening up the possibility for cloning the object and somehow, teleporting it to its original lands. Shaheer Zazai aims to subtract the attachment and stereotype of war and violence from his home country of Afghanistan’s international image through investigating the 35 “war rugs” from the Textile Museum collection, a collection which retells the history of the Afghan war from a North American perspective. By removing war imagery, he pieces together new rug designs in the form of four digital collages that only leave behind gardens and plant life that follow the oldest traditions of rug-making in Afghanistan.

Piecing Together

Khadija invites viewers to literally piece together a puzzle made up of detailed images of kashmiri or Tilikar shawls from the collection, and as the puzzle image comes together, words reveal information about the process of weaving these shawls and the intricate labour of weavers that came together to make these. In this way, the artist demystifies much of the information the public is unable to gather from viewing these weavings from the museum’s collection.


Chiedza Pasipanodya’s and Paola Torres Nuñez del Prado’s pieces use sound to activate their selected collection items and as a means to connect with ancestry across time. The first, speculates about a ceramic Luo pipehead, imagining the breathing sounds of its user when smoking from it, resembling a musical instrument. Pasipanodya created a musical notation to illustrate this breathing, connecting this sound to the breath of life that animates cultural items and the intergenerational connection with ancestors through their usage. The former, created an iteration of an Andean waraca (sling), turning it into an interface for sound making. When this textile is used –agitating it in the air to through stones as a defense device– it emits the reproduction of a natural soundscape followed by the chants and clamor of protests recorded in the 2022-2023 manifestations in Peru; sounds that collide to make a political statement, reminding us of ancestral technologies and social fights, repeated over time.

Get to know the Curators

Karina Roman Justo and Camila Salcedo are both emerging Latinx curators based in Canada, with an interest in museum practices and pedagogical approaches in art spaces.


Mending the Museum (2023)
Workshop Series:
   Narrative Charm
   Blackout Poetry
   Play it Forward
   Cloning and Paper Clay


About the Collective
Members of the Collective

Mending the Museum is a collaborative duo comprised of Karina Román Justo and Camila Salcedo. Together, their intent is to work as a bridge between artists, communities, regional museums, and craft objects from their collections, to reflect on ancestry and speculative futures within the framework of cultural belonging.

For all inquires, please email mendingthemuseum@gmail.com

Brand identity, website design and development by Natasha Whyte-Gray, 2023.