Intention versus Interpretation: Curating Personal Identities from Silk Gowns to Facebook

A piece that I wrote for the Leverhulme Human Constellations blog, asking about how we construct collections, how we curate our digital identities, and where the power of definition lies.

Human Constellations

Mona O’Brien

img_20160811_134747313 A case displaying seventeenth- and eighteenth-century fabrics from India, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

During our recent Human Constellations group trip to London, I found myself standing in front of the above display of garments in the V&A. On first glance it seems like a nice display, visually interesting but not overwhelming. Yet I walked away from it with a head full of questions and a gnawing sense of existential doubt.

The central dress was sewn from Indian silk embroidered cotton in eighteenth-century England. The red man’s robe (banyan), to the left, is made of fabric dyed and printed in South-East India; it was made up in Europe, in a style influenced by the Japanese kimono. These clothes, passive objects, have multiple identities, based on their materials, styles, and how they are displayed. Are they art objects? Historical objects? Ornaments for a body? Displays of wealth? Are they…

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