We've been thinking of doing indoor things when it rains, as it did today, but the rain doesn't seem to faze the Vancouverans. The sailboats were out Museum Building sailing by the dozens, the joggers and walkers out walking, usually without an umbrella. We saw lots of them on our way to the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia (UBC.)
The architecture of the homes is varied, but the gardens are great; plenty of spring flowers are blooming. We enjoyed the stately old homes surrounding a large oval known as The Crescent.
Starting with the parking lot, with meters charging $2.00 per 33 minutes (4 hours maximum) even though the parking lot was nearly empty, the Museum of Anthropology perplexed us. It is housed in a striking modern building, and the exhibits extend outside the building to the hill facing the sea. Carvings from wood
The most impressive displays are the carved wooden objects made by the local aboriginal peoples, including house posts, totem poles, caskets, and object with a religious significance. But the captions failed to satisfy us. Because the interpretation of these objects has religious significance to these peoples, and in political deference to the descendants of these peoples today, this significance is not discussed -- it should only be known to the members of the aboriginal groups who lived with the objects.
This started us off on a heated discussion; we violently agreed with each other, and disagreed with the museum curators. It appeared that political correctness had triumphed over the comprehension of museum visitors. Of course the dilemma of anthropology is how an anthropologist can make observations of a culture without having his or her presence distorting what is being observed. But refusing to Bill Reid sculpture interpret what is being shown because of sensitivity to the beliefs of those who created it is a little bizarre.
While we were discussing this, we followed along into a showing of modern art works by local Haida first nation artists. Was this an art museum? Was modern Haida art being studied by anthropologists? If so, what was the interpretation?
After the modern Haida art, we came upon a small auditorium, which was lined with displays of the nineteenth-century Chinese opera costumes used to present classical Chinese operas in Vancouver.
Just as abruptly we then found ourselves in the research collection -- cases upon cases of artifacts from all over the world, carefully indexed and described on printed catalog sheets that the visitor is encouraged to peruse. But this collection was so diverse, it could only be comprehended by taking a Totem pole detailed course of study; was that the intention?
There were a few display cases discussing the life of the natives of the region about 9000 years ago; certainly this was of standard archaeological and anthropological interest.
Then we popped into a large display room filled with old porcelain, mostly European. Why was this at the museum?
To put this report in some context, we absolutely recommend that a visitor to Vancouver view the objects in this museum. Many are incredibly beautiful, many are incredibly fascinating, some are both. The building is handsome and dramatic. We hope our photographs do the museum justice.
But a museum should have as story to tell; or possibly several stories. This museum is as much a scatter-gun as anything we've seen recently. Unfortunately, it tells no story well, especially not the story of anthropology. Perhaps the curators have succumbed to the hubris of believing the museum is supposed to present the truth - whereas the visitors are quite prepared to accept the museum displays merely as evidence.