Making sense: Experiential engagements with ethnographic photographs

Christine Horn


This article examines the role of embodied and performative knowledge in the museum environment, with a particular focus on ethnographic photographs. The study is based on the return of several hundred ethnographic photographs from the Sarawak Museum to Indigenous communities in rural Malaysia, where they had been taken by museum photographers from the early 1950s onwards. Aside from the oral narratives that emerged during the discussions and interviews, contextual knowledge was provided in embodied form. The return of the photographs to people in the source communities prompted the re-enactment of activities, re-telling of stories and production of cultural heritage to which the photographs referred. Such embodied knowledge, defined as knowledge preserved through performance and embodied activities, relates to the multi-vocal narratives about objects that museums are increasingly trying to include in their exhibitions. In this article I argue for a greater and more experimental use of sensory means to convey information about artifacts to museum audiences.  



Ethnographic photographs, Photography, Embodied knowledge, museum archives, Sarawak, Southeast Asia

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Copyright (c) 2018 Christine Horn

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360