Interpreting Rastafari

At the UWI Museum, we’re interested in the way other museums are approaching their work. So this blog post goes beyond our own work to briefly mention the recent experience at community engagement reported by the National Museum of Jamaica (NMJ);  part of the Institute of Jamaica system in Kingston, Jamaica.

The exhibition is titled Rastafari and the NMJ sees its development as an effort to challenge traditional approaches to exhibiting on communities and cultures.

Rastafari  incorporates and broadens the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovering Rastafari exhibition that ran in Washington DC from 2007-2011. But the effort to enhance interaction with the community and recognise community members as sources of history, knowledge and artifacts – something also current in treating with Native American and other groups worldwide – faced particular challenges.

Discussing the experience at the April 9-10 Archaeological Society of Jamaica (ASJ) Symposium, (Caribbean Archaeology, Conservation & Material Culture), NMJ Curator David Stimpson noted:

“The museum has been moving to a position where the community is centrally involved in the development of any exhibition we do. What Rastafari has done is to challenge how we work with communities.”

Why? Because, he said, Rasta groups have been urgent and strident in seeking to ensure that they agree with how they are represented, and because of jealousies between various of the groups within the community. The challenge has been deepened because of the international reach of and interest in the Rastafarian faith and lifestyle.

He noted that efforts to draw together the Rastafarian worldviews and the traditional western philosophies have only been partially successful, and said that the exhibition has ended up offering a dual dialogue. He said that this, to some extent reflects some people’s ambivalence towards the Rastafarian faith, whose main tenets include recognising Ethopian Emperor Haile Selassie as god and using marijuana as a sacrament.

The exhibition continues. Check out the Institute of Jamaica website for more information on Rastafari. And stay with us for more on our own events and more.

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