Cabinet of Curiosities

Artist and activist Natasha Kelly worked with students in Assistant Professor Marcel Schmid’s Advanced German Conversation course to develop and produce a “Cabinet of Curiosities,” a collection of everyday objects that highlight the variety of “isms” that students confront in their daily lives. Its aim was to redeploy the colonial-era cabinets of curiosities, in which white explorers displayed the exotic collections of their travels, and to turn the idea on its head by making the discrimination itself the object of curiosity. The project was also modeled on Kelly’s own “Poison Cabinet,” an exhibit of racial terms and concepts that have persisted in the German language.

Over the course of the week, students explored how items from everyday life can embody complex ideologies of race, gender, class or identity. They discussed curatorial approaches that could reveal the hidden ways in which everyday interactions with these objects reinforce biases and stereotypes, and came up with creative interventions to change the negative message of each object.

In the final cabinet, students curated objects ranging from tiki torches, mascots, and bathroom signs to old copies of UVa yearbooks. The cabinet remains on display at the University of Virginia.

Cabinets of Curiosity looked like this in the 17th Century

Click here for a flickr album of photos of the presentation.