'Difficult' exhibitions and intimate encounters

Jennifer Bonnell, Roger I. Simon

Abstract


Over the last thirty years museums around the world have shown an increased willingness to take on what is often characterized as ‘difficult subject matter.’ Absent in Anglophone museum studies literature, however, is a sustained discussion on what it is about such exhibitions that render them ‘difficult’ and, most important, what can be achieved by making painful histories public. This paper sets out to stimulate such discussion, illustrating the relevance of our concerns within the context of a comparative analysis of two recent Swedish exhibitions: The Museum of World Culture’s No Name Fever: AIDS in the Age of Globalization; and Kulturen’s Surviving: Voices from Ravensbrück. Very divergent in their presentation strategies and in the type of information presented, these exhibitions attempt to position their viewers in relation to violence and suffering of ‘others’ distant in time, place, or experience. We conclude by discussing the ways in which public history might animate a critical historical consciousness, a way of living with and within history as a never-ending question that constantly probes the adequacy of the ethical character and social arrangements of daily life.


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Copyright (c) 2015 Jennifer Bonnell, Roger I. Simon

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360