Doing the Work: Documenting Collections

Matthew Krishanu, Corvus, 2019. Installation view at The Stuart Hall Library, Iniva, London, 2019. Photograph by George Torode.
Matthew Krishanu, Corvus, 2019. Installation view at The Stuart Hall Library, Iniva, London, 2019. Photograph by George Torode.

24 March 2021


Part of ‘Doing the Work’, an online CPD workshop series co-produced by the Contemporary Art Society and the Decolonising Arts Institute (University of the Arts London). Read more.

Open to CAS Museum Members and professionals.

The act of cataloguing an artwork impacts whether it will be selected for inclusion in an exhibition or display, what other works it will be shown alongside, and how it will be interpreted for potentially wide-ranging audiences. However very few resources are given to this area of museum work, and it has yet to become the subject of serious and sustained scrutiny in efforts to decolonise museums and root out racist museal practices. As museums collections and cataloguing expert Ananda Rutherford states, “Documentation and collections management seems to be the last bastion of claims for a-political or neutral practices. We are still working with colonial era behaviours and understandings of the world, fitted into 19th century pseudo-scientific classification systems, in 20th century databases for a transnational global 21st century audience – why?”.

This workshop will begin with a conversation between Ananda Rutherford (Research Associate, Tate), Kathleen Lawther (Freelance curator, specialising in the documentation of museum collections) and Marenka Thompson-Odlum (Research Associate at the Pitt Rivers Museums). Click here for participant biographies.

Open to CAS Museum Members and professionals. To book your place at this workshop please email before 19 March 2021.


Further Reading:

Kathleen Lawther’s blog posts about collections documentation as a tool for access: Part 1 and Part 2

Ananda Rutherford’s recent interview with the Curatorial Research Centre, where she discusses her experiences in documenting collections and her most recent work on the Provisional Semantics project.

For examples of how ambitions towards decolonisation are impacted by cataloguing systems in ethnographic museums, watch Let’s Talk Labels: A Conversation around the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Labelling Matters project Part 2.

For broader context, Safiya Umoja Noble’s Ted Talk on algorithmic bias, drawn from her book Algorithms of Oppression, to help participants consider the issues within digital collection catalogues and databases.



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