“(Re)collecting” signifies the active process of remembering and draws attention to the power of collections to elicit memories and histories and to act as participants in social and political change. This special installation showcases a collection of objects at the Johnson Museum that have been donated by alumni and faculty of the Cornell Southeast Asia Program (SEAP), beginning in the 1970s with gifts of Buddhist sculpture from Alexander Brown Griswold, SEAP visiting professor.
In creating this collection of a collection, our approach is both reflexive and reflective, emphasizing the history of collecting and its social and geopolitical underpinnings. As we consider objects in relation to the journeys that brought them to Ithaca, we attempt to foreground voices of individuals who contributed to the collection or who have engaged with it in meaningful ways, especially those who may not be recognized in usual or existing coverage of the objects. To historicize the processes of collecting and the production of related scholarship and teaching materials, we have relied on archival materials held at Cornell Library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections. We have also looked to the Johnson Museum’s acquisition records and exhibition history to understand the ongoing recontextualizations of these collections as mediated by curators and SEAP faculty and students.
Through our research, we have come to understand more deeply how the collecting engaged in by earlier generations of members of the SEAP community was propelled by rich friendships and professional relationships with one another and with a small and close network of contacts from the United States, Europe, and Asia. These patterns continue to influence the Johnson Museum’s acquisition practices and exhibition planning. Museum activities are also shaped by the visions of visiting scholars and contemporary artists from Southeast Asia, illuminating ongoing collaborations that occur within and beyond academia and that connect generations of SEAP affiliates around the world.
Collections are inherently partial, as is this installation. We challenge desires for wholeness and the binary logic and notions of boundedness that undergird them, and we embrace the possibility of the uncertainty of the fragment. We look to fragments of potsherds collected by Ruth Sharp, traces of shadows left by flitting wayang puppets and performers, detached heads of Buddha images and clay figurines, glimpses of an ider-ider in rooms across campus, and fragments of memories generously shared with us by members of the SEAP community to follow the interconnected webs that extend to the past while leading us to future encounters.
This installation was curated by Anissa Rahadiningtyas, curatorial assistant for Asian art at the Johnson and SEAP graduate student; Alexandra Dalferro, SEAP graduate student; and Astara Light, SEAP graduate student; under the supervision of Ellen Avril, chief curator and the Judith H. Stoikov Curator of Asian Art.