One day in September 2017 we entered the Royal Ontario Museum as researchers and creators for the first time. We met at the side door, the staff entrance, signed in at the security desk, and were issued visitors badges. The Curator of Anthropology Arni Brownstone led us through a locked door, down a twisting corridor and up a staff elevator to the Anthropology Department collections area. We were hushed, nervous, and uncertain.
The anthropology collection room is like a vault. Massive mobile storage cases made of metal and painted pale gray are set on sliding tracks in the centre of the room. Metal shelves containing masks, baskets and other paraphernalia line the walls. Counting the students, the instructor, the project manager, and the teaching assistant there were twelve of us that first day so it was crowded in the vault. And when Tracey the curatorial assistant, rolled the storage cases apart to reveal the artefact drawers inside, the space became even more close and crowded.
In silence, we watched as Tracey opened drawer after drawer and carefully lifted layers of tissue paper to show us the objects resting inside. She brought in a step-ladder so we could climb up to the topmost drawers to peer inside. There were drawers of woven and beaded articles of clothing, small receptacles for carrying things, ornamental figurines and regalia, tools for fishing, trapping and hunting, ceremonial objects, and personal effects. In silence we looked. In silence the articles looked back at us.
Our project was to uncover and here was the first act in the process: to reach out metaphorically and spiritually to these objects and seek a connection. Each student choose one object that day. They chose a piece that resonated in some part of their memory and being and undertook to study that piece for a year, to respond to it in art and words, to re-member its place in our personal and collective cultural survival and resurgence.
This website is the result of their work.