Bringing the dead to life : identification, interpretation, and display of Chinese burial objects in the Rewi Alley collection at Canterbury Museum.
Thesis DisciplineArt History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis presents a study of how museums collect and display burial objects. In particular, it focuses on objects which had been buried with the dead. The case studies which constitute the starting point for this inquiry are Chinese burial objects from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) of the Rewi Alley Collection at Canterbury Museum. In the tomb, Chinese burial objects had a primarily religious purpose, and were intended for the use and appreciation of the dead only. However, they are known in the ‘West’ on account of their having been unearthed, transported, and placed in new cultural contexts, such as on display in museums for contemplation by living audiences. This creates many ontological complexities for the objects, and in this study I address some of the issues which arise as a result of their display in the new cultural context of the museum, and discuss in what ways the objects, as cultural and material entities, acquire new identities and meanings. In particular, I interrogate curatorial practices around the interpretation and display of such objects, and the museological assumptions upon which these rest.