Dr Nicola Ashmore researches art and museum practice post 1997. The commissioning of artists, makers and communities to respond to collections is an important curatorial strategy used by many national and regional museums and galleries. Curating in this respect can be usefully considered as a process of meaning making that involves a range of people from both inside and outside of the museum and gallery. Within this research the curatorial practice of commissioning artists as a form of community engagement is investigated.
Nicola’s doctoral work focuses on the display of commissioned work within the ethnographic collections of Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and Manchester Museum. The role these commissioned pieces play is discussed in relation to shifts in curatorial practices; the influence of New Labour’s cultural diversity agenda on this activity; the emphasis placed on the visibility of community engagement; and the issues surrounding the framing of these museum commissions as ‘authentic’. The impact of this commissioning practice is critically considered through the discussion of four commissions that took place between 1995 and 2009. These commissions asked people living in the local area, categorized as ethnic minorities, to participate in their own representation and located them as a representative of their attributed community. This practice is a noticeable departure from that of artists in the 1990s that could be characterized as providing an institutional critique of the museum.
The collection of interpretations from source communities or living cultures has escalated throughout this period. Collecting interpretations is a collecting practice. It is, however, not often analysed yet in this way. This ‘collecting’ activity reflects the convergence of policy aims to increase engagement of people categorized as ethnic minorities, with museums’ work with source communities, informed by postcolonial debates surrounding the control and production of cultural identities. This convergence, combined with funding pre- requisites means the ability to demonstrate access and engagement with people from source communities has become of paramount importance to the museum, which in turn has directly impacted upon curatorial strategies. This research begins to attend to the impact of these influences on curatorial practices highlighting the erosion of the autonomy of the source community artist through the commissioning process in this period.
The publication of these findings in the professional journal for Museum Ethnographers (2011) and Museum History Journal (2015) means these findings can contribute to important dialogue that inform curatorial practice. This doctoral research has led Ashmore to publish on artistic interventions and curatorial practice more broadly. Ashmore’s insight into the display practices in museums is underpinned by exhibiting her own artistic interventions in Hastings Museum & Art Gallery’s exhibition Indian Summer (2009).
Collaboration with Dr Megha Rajguru has prompted the development of this work within a global context. Together they have circulated this body of research. In 2013 they co-convened a panel, ‘Exhibiting South Asia, 1901- 2012’, at the Design History Society’s conference in Ahmedabad, India. In 2016 they co-authored a book chapter in the Bloomsbury publication Design Objects and the Museum entitled Indian Living Cultures: Collected, Exhibited and Performed. The representation of India through art commissions and performance is examined as an exhibition design agenda of the post-colonial museum on the one hand, and the performance of nationalist Indian identities by the diaspora, on the other. The exhibition of the deities is located within a contemporary global context by drawing upon exhibitionary practices within a regional museum in Pune, India, the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.
List of associated publications and conference contributions:
Rajguru, Megha and Ashmore, Nicola (2016) Indian Living Cultures: Collected, Exhibited and Performed In: Farrelly, Liz and Weddell, Jo, eds. Design objects and the museum. Bloomsbury, London. ISBN 9781472577238
Ashmore, Nicola (2015) Commissioning artists: community engagement, ethnographic collections and changes in curatorial practices from the 1990s to 2000s in the UK Museum History Journal, 8 (1). pp. 59-72. ISSN 1936-9824
Co-wrote with Megha Rajguru, 'Remaking Picasso's Guernica as a banner. A work of art; an act of protest,' Design History Society Conference, Design for War and Peace, 4-6 September 2014, University of Oxford, Oxford.
Visual Studies Journal, Routledge, 15 June 2014, 'Curious Lessons in the Museum: The Pedagogic Potential of Artists' Interventions' by Claire Robins.
Co-wrote with Megha Rajguru, 'Remaking Picasso's Guernica as a banner. A work of art; an act of protest.' Subversive Stitch Revisited; The Politics of Cloth, 29-30 November 2013, London.
Co-wrote with Megha Rajguru, ‘Living Cultures: Collected, Exhibited and Performed,’ Design History Society Conference, Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives, 5-8 September 2013, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India.
Journal of Curatorial Studies, Vol.1, Issue 3, 2013, ‘Cultures of Curating: Curatorial Practices and the Production of Meaning 1650-2000', the Museums and Galleries Histories Group annual conference, 2012.
Co-wrote with Megha Rajguru, ‘Living Cultures: Collected, Exhibited and Performed,’ Festival of Social Science: Space / Power / Culture, symposium, 7 June 2013, University of Brighton.
Journal of Curatorial Studies, Vol.1, Issue 2, 2012, 'Exhibitionism: A symposium on queer curatorial practice'.
Ashmore, Nicola (2011) Making for Museums, Commissioning Living Cultures: 'A study of the 'Hindu Shrine' project at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and the 'Rekindle' video series at Manchester Museum, Manchester University' Journal of Museum Ethnography, 24. pp. 89-109. ISSN 0954–7169
Ashmore, Nicola (2011) Art and identity: interpretation and ethnographic collections in regional museums, Britain, 1997-2010 Doctoral thesis, University of Brighton.