And Noelle Kahanu, Project Manager, Bishop Museum
We owe Noelle
our thanks for organizing the panel and soliciting our participation on it.
As the moderator, I had the privilege of speaking with Kippen, Alexandra, and Noelle
before they had to pare down their presentations from many topics to a few.
panel description Noelle
refers to these issues as "the buffalo in the room"-the things that museum planners and exhibit designers talk around and rarely confront.
presentation by locating the Bishop Museum
within two histories-first, the historic decline of the Hawaiian population since Western contact and the political dispossession of the Hawaiian people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and second, the history of the museum itself.
While Bishop Museum
began auspiciously with collections of treasured objects from three Hawaiian royal women, it eventually devolved into portraying Hawaiians
from a non-Native perspective and relegating Hawaiian culture to the past.
emphasized the importance of the museum's newly re-opened Hawaiian Hall in August 2009, and its efforts to present an Hawaiian worldview.
For many in the Native community, the renovated exhibits are more than beautifully redesigned displays, they are restoring "health, trust, faith, foundation, and a nation.
According to Noelle, most of the "buffalos" in the museum were/are congregating on the third floor of Hawaiian Hall.
Here, controversial political issues are directly addressed by Bishop Museum
for the first time (e.g., the events leading up to the 1893 overthrow, the 1898 annexation process and its protesters, opposition to statehood in 1959, and the rise of the contemporary Hawaiian "renaissance" and independence movements).
Like Alexandra, Noelle
described the concerns of staff and board members that the exhibition team avoid developing negative portrayals of historic events.
Because they could not completely avoid this problem, Noelle
presentation by noting the presence of an important exhibit on the third floor that includes a large painted mural and a video.
Both works refer to a prophecy chant that foretells the rise of the Hawaiian people ("that which was below would rise up…") after experiencing profound changes.
In these two pieces, the museum hopes its uplifting message about the resiliency of the Hawaiian people will resonate with all visitors who have experienced difficulties and grown stronger because of them.
I believe these three presentations have opened an important space for future discussions about topics we have avoided in both Native and non-Native museums.
I hope all of us will take the opportunity to join Kippen, Alexandra and Noelle
and carry the conversation further.