Conversation with Wayne Modest

Friday, December 4, 2020 12pm–8pm

Wayne Modest, Head of the Research Center for Material Culture, the research institute for the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands, led a conversation centered on environmental precarity in the lives of previously colonized and indigenous people. As a starting point, curator Heather Moqtaderi introduced artworks by Alison Saar included in our exhibition Re-materialize. For the series presented in this exhibition, Saar researched the history of Black communities in the Southern U.S. and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Her series reflects the historical pattern of Black communities experiencing environmental precarity in the U.S. and offers critical commentary on present-day inequities.

Post Program Notes:

During the course of this conversation, several resources were mentioned that we feel merit outlining here:

Is Racism an Environmental Threat (Debating Race) by Ghassan Hage (Polity Books, 2017)

“Alison Saar, The Alchemist,” an essay by Christina Sharp for Hyperallergic

Island Futures by Mimi Sheller (Duke University Press, 2020)

Books by Wayne Modest: Victorian Jamaica (Duke University Press, 2018) and Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections and Collaboration (ed. Viv Golding and Wayne Modest, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013)

Wayne Modest is the head of the Research Center of Material Culture. He is also professor of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies in the faculty of humanities at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (VU). Modest was previously, head of the curatorial department at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Keeper of Anthropology at the Horniman Museum in London, and Director of the Museums of History and Ethnography in Kingston, Jamaica.

He has held visiting scholar positions at the Center for Experimental Ethnography, UPenn, Yale Centre for British Art, Yale University and the School for Museums Studies, New York University. Wayne Modest’s work is driven by a concern for more historically contingent ways of understanding the present, especially in relation to material culture/museum collections. His research interests include issues of belonging and displacement; material mobilities; histories of (ethnographic) collecting and exhibitionary practices; difficult/contested heritage (with a special focus on slavery, colonialism and post-colonialism); Caribbean Thought. More recently Modest has been researching and publishing on heritage and citizenship in Europe with special attention for urban life, colonial afterlives, and on ethnographic museums and questions of redress/repair.

Alison Saar, Breach (9/18), 2017
Woodcut on vintage linen seed sack
Varied edition of 18
43 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches