New exhibition connects artworks with objects to reframe African art and textiles collection

Published: 16 October 2023

The Hunterian has invited renowned filmmaker/scholar Manthia Diawara and art historian/curator Terri Geis to collaborate on an ambitious group exhibition that reframes the African art and textiles which form part of its permanent collection.

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, has invited renowned filmmaker/scholar Manthia Diawara and art historian/curator Terri Geis to collaborate on an ambitious group exhibition that reframes the African art and textiles which form part of its permanent collection.

The Trembling Museum takes place from 2 December 2023 to 19 May 2024.

The objects in the exhibition range from musical instruments such as drums and lutes, to sculptures, paintings, clothing and more. They have historically been classified as ‘ethnographic’ objects within the collection, and only rarely considered within the conceptual context of art, or the physical space of the art gallery. Diawara and Geis’s recent collaborative work has focused on applying the ideas of the Martinican poet / thinker Édouard Glissant (1928-2011) to art of the African diaspora, and to elaborating his understanding of the ‘poetics of relation’ as an ethos for curatorial work.

They have written of the need to develop a new sense of the ‘sacred’ in relation to contemporary crises, historical legacies, and to their interconnectedness. They bring these interests to bear at The Hunterian in which they will show African objects together with contemporary artworks and mineralogy specimens. The exhibition is co-curated by Diawara and Geis with Dominic Paterson (Curator of Contemporary Art) and Andy Mills (Curator of World Cultures).

Dominic Paterson says, “The exhibition is inspired specifically by Glissant’s reflection that we must learn to tremble together, as humans, with nature, in new relations. As Glissant suggests, ‘The earth is trembling. Systems of thought have been demolished, and there are no more straight paths.’ The Hunterian’s own historical taxonomies, and the political implications of its ownership and interpretation of African objects, are opened to question in this project, which asks how an institution itself can enable such a ‘trembling’ relation to the world.”

Though its implications reach far beyond Glasgow, The Hunterian’s own collections are the point of departure for the project. In 2022, a collaborative search into the museum’s stores yielded a humble yet highly symbolic object: a small roof tile from St. Pierre, Martinique, partially melted by pyroclastic flow from Mount Pelée in 1902. This volcanic eruption devastated the town and its inhabitants, putting into motion movement, migration, change, new relations among people and nature. This roof tile, which fuses ceramic and ash, provides one anchor for The Trembling Museum, pointing both to the catastrophe and to new hybrid formations. As such, it resonates with the history of the Caribbean in Glissant’s thinking, as both the location of the ‘abyss’ where African lives and identities were lost, and as the locus of ‘creolization’, or the forging of multiple, mixed identities and a new, ‘non-continental’ way of thinking. This previously underappreciated museum object becomes an emblem for The Trembling Museum, allowing for a departure from classical configurations.

Placing artworks into new connections with this notion of unpredictable beauty, the exhibition suggests that we can no longer rely on the old myths of origin or return narratives, with which to retrieve a non-contaminated past. And yet we need a sense of sacredness to maintain the human in us, to enable us to tremble with the trembling of other human and nonhuman living things and the environment. We need a new sacred that is transracial, transcontinental, and traversing time and space. The Trembling Museum will explore these possibilities through a collaborative process of creating relations. Alongside works from the permanent collection, the project is animated by additional performances, writings, and films by artists from around the world. The exhibition will feature recent acquisitions to The Hunterian collection from artists such as Adam Pendleton, Jimmy Robert, Ayan Farah with Ilana Halperin, and Ulrike Ottinger.

Loans of contemporary works from the newly established University of Glasgow ARC art collection will bring further contemporary works into dialogue with The Hunterian’s African material. Volcanic mineral specimens will mix with artworks to extend the notion of trembling as a process of registering the world’s movement.

The curatorial team works from the Édouard Glissantian sensibility that:

“There is something new taking place in the movement of these cultures that are touching one another and that influence each other without trying to impose a monolithic civilization, because as we know the great civilizations are being undone and fusing into multi-cultures. So in this movement, cultures bear the trace of that which is complex and inextricable. When you look at these kinds of complexities, the visitor in the modern museum is no longer the same as the visitor to the museum of the past. The visitor is no longer repeating the footsteps of previous visitors.”

The Trembling Museum forms one of a number of initiatives in which The Hunterian is reconsidering how it represents its collections and contributes meaningfully to contemporary questions around ownership and representation. It is an experiment in collaboration and re-framing that offers one proposal for how a museum might change the way it classifies and makes connections through its collection.

The Trembling Museum is at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, from 2 December 2023 until 19 May 2024. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am until 5pm. Free entry. 

Further Information

For press information contact:

Nicola Jeffs
07794 694 754

Notes to Editors

The Hunterian Contemporary Art Programme

The oldest public museum in Scotland, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities, The Hunterian is at the forefront of university museums around the world. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource. It is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences. Hunterian’s contemporary art programme responds to and interacts with The Hunterian collections, spaces and histories to make new connections and to reflect people, ideas and stories. The Hunterian collection’s historic foundation is a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western society and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. Taking this as a point of departure and critical reflection, The Hunterian’s contemporary art programme seeks to interrogate the institution’s genealogy, and to introduce different perspectives into its spaces.

Working with a wide range of artists on acquisitions, commissions, exhibitions and events, our contemporary art programme allows The Hunterian to find new ways of using our historic collections to understand the contemporary world.

The Hunterian’s University context creates room for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. As one of the few purpose-built art galleries in Glasgow — a city renowned for its large art community—The Hunterian offers a space in which work by emerging local artists and more established international practitioners can be exhibited to wide and diverse audiences, enabling connection, reflection and experimentation.

Since 2017, The Hunterian has featured solo exhibitions by artists such as Neil Clements, Ilana Halperin, Alex Impey, Ulrike Ottinger and Jimmy Robert. Group exhibitions have included works by, among others: Sarah Browne; Phil Collins; Tacita Dean; Manthia Diawara; Andrew Kerr; Nalini Malani; Jade Montserrat; Shahryar Nashat; Otobong Nkanga; Charlotte Prodger; Carol Rhodes; Margaret Salmon; Simon Starling; Corin Sworn.

Hunterian has also supported projects with John Gerrard (a major outdoor video installation for COP26), Elisabeth Schilling (a week of dance performances and a symposium in 2019). They have undertaken collaborations with other arts organisations, including The Common Guild, Goethe Institute Glasgow, Glasgow International, Film and Video Umbrella, Leeds Arts University, and the Roberts Institute of Art, all of which have brought benefits through co-funding and knowledge exchange.

The Hunterian have commissioned new works from artists including: Claire Barclay, Alex Impey, Neil Clements, Minty Donald & Nick Millar, Louise Hopkins, and Georgina Starr (in partnership with Art Fund, FVU and GI). We have received funding awards from VNXXCAS 2021, CAS Rapid Response Fund 2020, Art Fund Moving Image Fund for Museums (2018), Henry Moore Institute (2018), the Kingdom of the Netherlands Embassy (2021).

Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am until 5pm.

First published: 16 October 2023