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‘Betwixt and Between’: Exploring Invisibility and Narrating Mixed-Race Identity in UK Museums

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posted on 15.07.2020, 20:49 by Naomi E. Terry
This research aims to explore the relative absence of mixed-race narratives in UK museums. Museums have a long and contested relationship with race, still often informed by historical notions of difference, ‘other-ness’ and othering. Attempts to diversify staff, and programmes aimed at building bridges between the museum (as powerful) and the marginalised (as powerless) help in acknowledging and redressing this history. Although the UK’s mixed-race population is the fastest-growing ethnic minority group, mixed-ness remains largely unexplored within UK museums. Museological discussion regarding race and social justice have yet to fully embrace mixed-race identities. The museum tends to construct and present race as binary, eclipsing complex racial identities that reject such essentialism. Using mixedrace theory, this research explores the places where mixed-ness is found in the UK museum; curatorial power in creating or suppressing its visibility and its voice; language; visual culture; the fragility of personal recollection. It considers silences in this narrative - how and why these might be actively curated by the museum. It attempts to highlight the ways in which mixed-race invisibility in the museum is reflective of wider museological issues with representation. To do this, it considers mixed-race (in)visibility in the museum within the context of mixed-race social history. The research concludes by reviewing its initial research questions, asking whether mixed-ness can be narrated at all. Mixed-ness is fluid because as a lived experience it is historical and contemporary. Stereotyped as beyond social order, it defies classification. Mixed-ness cannot be computed within inflexible systems of collecting, displaying and curating. This research ends by arguing that museums should use mixed-ness to deconstruct their approaches to representation and visibility. In light of the relative lack of mixed-race museum research, any and all mixed-race research writes an ongoing legacy for future mixed-race research.



Richard Sandell; Sheila Watson

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Department of Museum Studies

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University of Leicester

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