Voicing the Subaltern in the Public Sphere: The Case of Museum in a Suitcase

Voicing the Subaltern in the Public Sphere: The Case of Museum in a Suitcase

Dalya Yafa Markovich (Beit Berl College, Israel)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8553-6.ch014
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Abstract

The voice of the subaltern is barely ever heard in the traditional historical-ethnological museum. Aiming to break the constraints and limitations of the traditional museum sphere, Alemu Eshetie, an Israeli based artist of Ethiopian origin, has created a museum dedicated to the Ethiopian Jewish community that functions as a traveling “public sphere”. Through these strategies the Museum wishes to establish a “dialogical methodology” that will voice the ‘Ethiopian' subaltern and thus foster his empowerment. By using ethnographic fieldwork that followed the activities held by the Museum in the 4th grade at a multiethnic and disadvantaged school in Israel, this chapter examined the ways in which students of Ethiopian origin chose to voice themselves in the public sphere created by the Museum, and the social and educational meanings attached to their voice. Hence findings suggest that the social construction of the subalterns' personal voice within the public sphere can expose racial and social inferior position and thus work against the aims it means to achieve.
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Introduction

Voicing the subaltern has been attributed with a social and ideological emancipatory role with regards both to the ways in which the excluded individual and collective perceive and experience themselves (their class and identity and how they are reflected in the eyes of others), and to the ways in which they are perceived by others (Anzaldúa, 1990; Mohanty, 1992; Taylor, 1994).

The voice of silenced groups is barely ever heard in the traditional historical-ethnological museum, which is usually subject to the pedagogy and discourse that represent the hegemonic cultural group (Hooper-Greenhill, 1992; Sherman & Rogoff, 1994). Aiming to break the constraints and limitations of the traditional museum sphere, many historical-ethnological projects have adopted in recent years a different pedagogical approach, assuming the characteristics of the “public sphere”, namely: that of an area in social life where individuals can come together to discuss and influence political action (Hauser, 1998).

This pedagogical sphere is seen as carrying a promise to represent marginalized and silenced (subaltern) “Others” whose voice is not heard in the museum spheres characterized by traditional pedagogy (Kwon, 2002).

Museum in a Suitcase, initiated and operated by Alemu Eshetie, an artist of Ethiopian origin, similarly seeks to disturb the familiar museal pedagogical syntax. Eshetie has created a museum dedicated to the history, society and culture of the Ethiopian Jewish community, as it exists in Ethiopia and Israel. Unlike the established museums, Museum in a Suitcase is a portable exhibition space that travels between different temporary spaces: schools, community centers, local clubs and so on. This nomadic pedagogy is perceived as investing the different spheres that host it with the characteristics of the “public sphere”. Through these strategies the Museum in a Suitcase wishes to overturn the traditional museum’s pedagogical model, which is based on the viewer’s passivity (Azoulay, 1997), while establishing a “dialogical methodology” that will voice the ‘Ethiopian’ subaltern and thus foster his empowerment. Through ethnographic fieldwork that followed the activities held by Museum in a Suitcase in the 4th grade at a multiethnic and disadvantaged school in Israel, I have examined the ways in which students of Ethiopian origin chose to voice themselves in the public sphere created by the museum, and the social and educational meanings attached to voicing the disadvantaged in this sphere.

Hence, observing the social construction of the 'Ethiopian' students' personal voice within the public sphere that the museum has created, and analyzing the ideological frames and contexts through which these voices were interpreted by non-'Ethiopian' students, problematized the personal-public assumption. While the personal-public assumption claims that voicing the subaltern's narrative in the framework of the public sphere will induce processes of empowerment, using this praxis in multi-ethnic environments can work against the aims it means to achieve. The findings expose several events where the social constructing of voicing the 'Ethiopian' students’ silenced and marginalized narratives contributed to the maintenance of the students' racial and social inferior position. Thus, this study seeks to deepen our understanding regarding the expectations ascribed to the pedagogical potential embedded in the public sphere in multi-ethnic communities. By expanding the existing empirical literature regarding the public sphere, this study seeks to contribute to the formulation of a discourse that does not sketch a one-to-one relation between voicing and empowerment when the public sphere functions as a meeting ground between different ethnic groups.

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