A new student exhibit that is being displayed in the Penn Museum explores how people use objects to preserve memories.
The exhibit, "Memory Keepers: Why Objects Matter," opened March 29 and was curated by College junior Megan McKelvey and College seniors Malkia Okech and Madison Greiner. Okech said the student curators wanted to "look at memory in a more positive sense" by choosing objects that are also relevant to contemporary communities. Some selected artifacts include a stela from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago and a carved ring from late 18th century Italy.
“We were looking at the concept of memorial for a while and remembering people," Okech said. “[The artifacts] are like time capsules, allowing us to look at different cultural contexts and a range of different time periods, which is reflected in the objects that were chosen."
The student curators created the exhibit through Penn Museum's Student Exhibition Internship Program, which has provided paid internships for the past five years to allow students to learn about different aspects of museum curation. Each year, students are invited to apply to design an exhibit related to the Provost's annual theme with help from professional curators at the Museum. This year, the theme is the Year of Why.
“Memory is seen a natural conclusion to why, because it allows us to further the questions of why to questions like 'why artifacts?' and 'why are artifacts important?'" Okech said.
Okech added that she heard about the internship through her work as a Penn Museum research assistant.
“When I worked as a student worker at the museum, I was becoming increasingly more interested in what a curatorial position is like," she said. "I decide to do this internship not only to culminate my undergraduate experience but also for a different sector than before."
Penn Museum Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs Kate Quinn said the Student Exhibition Internship Program is designed to teach students about the aspects that go into curating an exhibit, such as planning, design, and installation.
“[The program] is mainly about giving exposure to the process of creating an exhibit than it is to have than to have exciting contents,” Quinn added.
Quinn said the exhibition team at the museum selected several hundred artifacts from the museum collection for the student curators to choose from as “would be impossible for the students to familiarize themselves with the millions of artifacts in the museum’s collection.” However, students could access the larger collection if they wanted specific items.
Penn Museum Director of Academic Engagement Anne Tiballi added that as part of the program, student curators also have the chance to educate visitors about the museum contents. The museum will host a series of “Daily Digs,” where student curators will give 15-minute presentations about one of the exhibit artifacts. Okech said she enjoys educating museum visitors.
“I am really interested in how the public interact with the artifacts and museum is used to present ideas to the publics,” Okech added.
The student-curated exhibit will be open for a year. Tiballi added that while it is “unfortunate” that most of the exhibition time will be during the Year of Data, the Provost’s annual theme for the upcoming year, the museum “will be continue to engage the audience by bringing classes and tours to the exhibition.”