VMMA student Thupten Kelsang organised a worhsop, ‘Re-Engaging Tibetan Material Heritage’, at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the British Museum and the V&A Museum
At the end of March, Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology (VMMA) student Thupten Kelsang organised ‘Re-engaging Tibetan Material Heritage’, a three day workshop on Tibetan collections in major museums in the UK. This unprecedented event enabled a delegation of Tibetans to participate in a series of object viewing/handling sessions and to listen to talks given by curators and academics at SOAS (University of London), Magdalen College (Oxford), the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), the British Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum (Blythe House Archive). The group, from both inside and outside Tibet, included contemporary artists, representatives of the UK Tibetan diaspora, and postgraduate students.
The workshop provided an opportunity for members of the Tibetan community to directly engage with Tibetan material culture and to study historic artefacts that have otherwise been inaccessible to them. It was also designed to critique the histories of display, curation, and knowledge production around Tibetan material heritage that have dominated practice in Euro-American museums for more than a century.
These themes, and the workshop itself, are key components of the research that will underpin Thupten Kelsang’s MSc dissertation, which is supported by Professor Clare Harris in her curatorial role at the Pitt Rivers Museum and supervised in her academic post at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. As the first Tibetan refugee to study in the School, and the first from his community to take the VMMA degree, Thupten Kelsang is in a unique position to further develop such initiatives and to create sustainable, grassroots engagements between museums and Tibetans. We are delighted that Thupten has recently been awarded a Clarendon scholarship that will enable him to continue this important work at doctoral level and make further contributions to the Pitt Rivers Museum and the School from October 2018.