Student Collectors for the Haffenreffer Museum
For more than forty years, Brown students have helped build the collections of the university’s museum, purchasing artifacts as part of their undergraduate or graduate fieldwork. The Haffenreffer provides financial, scholarly, and logistical support to allow them to collect and document materials from around the world. The collections are sent back to Brown for study and display.
Students in AMCV2220, “Museums and their Communities,” selected student collectors, researched their work, chose artifacts, and wrote these descriptions.
Aaron Bielenberg ’97 in Ecuador
After graduating, Aaron Bielenberg received a Fulbright grant to study indigenous painting practices in Ecuador, and a grant from the Haffenreffer to collect artifacts for the museum. He collected these Tigua paintings from the village of Quiltoa in the Andes. Tourists come to the village to see the water-filled caldera, or collapsed volcano. These painted sheepskin canvases, boxes, and drum depict this landscape, llamas and people in traditional dress. They show a mastery of the Tigua style, its use of color and extremely fine brush strokes. Their representations of traditional dress and animal husbandry document aspects of twentieth-century life for Ecuador’s indigenous people.
The consistency of picturesque landscapes and characters is a trademark of tourist art. The museum collects objects of tourist art because they express the visual culture of globalization. They represent both indigenous self-determination and engagement within the world of international tourism. Besides the art, Bielenberg collected tools used by Tigua painters. Paint cans, film canisters used to mix paint, and paintbrushes show that the global commodity trade reaches deep into the Andes.
Claire Grace ’03 in Mali
Claire Grace studied cultural production and activism in Francophone Africa. She focused on bògòlanfini, or mud cloth, made by skilled female artists in rural Mali. Using tools such as these, women spin and weave local cotton into cloth, then dye and paint it with fermented mud.
Women make bògòlanfini for special occasions. This skirt, made by Sitan Coulibaly for her daughter’s dowry, conveys both traditional and contemporary meanings through its expressive patterns.
Artists have adapted bògòlanfini designs for high art, fashion and export to the commercial market. This mass-produced mud-cloth, or bogolan, includes toys, like these made by Coro, president of the Segou Women’s Association in 2003. Bogolan affords its makers income, yet has marginalized the village women who made bògòlanfini for traditional uses. Grace worked with artists from Groupe Bogolan Kasobané, bogolan pioneers, to revalorize the work of village artists like Sitan Coulibaly and Coro, preserving their work in Brown’s collections.
Grace’s collection illustrates complex interactions between artists and their work as they respond both to local needs and a globalized economy.
Thomas Urban ’05 in Mexico and Guatemala
Thomas Urban became interested in how contemporary textile work blends ancient cultural symbols and modern national politics after working on the Haffenreffer Museum’s exhibition Warp Speeds. While traveling in Mexico and Guatemala, he collected objects from the Zapatista movement that weave the symbolic language of the past into communal responses to national and global change.
Indigenous Maya women have maintained community values through weaving for thousands of years. Their products reference their identity. Common garments, like this huipil, have often borne images of important local products such as flowers and corn. Within the modern Zapatista movement these images, along with more explicit political symbols, also reaffirm local self-sufficiency.
Other emblems provoke deeper resonances. Community leaders in Chiapas told Urban that their Maya ancestors lived in a world that moved at a much slower pace than today, much like the slow- moving snail (caracol). Today the symbol of the caracol expresses Zapatista ideals of small community governance in the face of globalization.
Christina Johannsen Ph.D. ’84 in Thailand
Christina Johannsen, an anthropology graduate student, traveled to northern Thailand in 1974 and there amassed a collection of objects reflecting the theme of Merit, a key component of Buddhism. Thai Buddhists believe that Merit accumulates as one performs good deeds in the present life, and that the good deeds will carry over into later life or the after-life.
The objects Johannsen collected represent acts done to accumulate Merit. These are a small selection from her collection, most of which represent ritual objects traditionally given as donations to the Sangha, the Buddhist community of monks, in order to accumulate Merit.
“My main hope” in collecting objects around the theme of Merit, wrote Johannsen, is that “the viewer will get some flavor of Thai life. For the Thai these items are a part of the popular material culture. He is familiar with all of them because he is in contact with these items either in his home or in his interactions with his public world.”
You can see more artifacts collected by students in the Haffenreffer’s exhibits in Manning Hall.