February is Black History Month in the USA and Canada, and to coincide, RCA/V&A students Izzy and Katie have created a podcast where they share with us their thoughts on some of the objects they have been working on this past academic year. In this podcast they discuss how their research relates to race and the construction of racial imaginaries, as well as the relevance of this kind of research in the current political climate.
For Izzy’s first term object essay, she looked at the mass production of radicalised stereotypes in America and the influence those had on British childhood between 1880-1920. She looked at a case study of the ‘Jolly Nigger Money Bank’, held by the V&A Museum of Childhood which was mass produced in Buffalo, New York, between 1882-1892 (in the podcast Izzy states its production site as Connecticut, but that was a momentary jumble of information). She explores, specifically, the ‘Negro’ character and the novelty of ‘blackness’ in the middle-class home in utilitarian objects. Her interest for this particular essay focussed in on the multitude of print media and the characterisation of the ‘Negro’ which impacted the socialisation of those in Imperial British and American homes, towards ‘the Other’.
For Katie’s second year dissertation, she has been researching a series of plaster busts made from the life masks of over five hundred indigenous peoples around the world by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This collection was commissioned by anthropologist Franz Boas and was manufactured by museum artists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An example of one of the busts that feature in the collection can be found here. The Haffenreffer Museum at Brown University featured copies of some of the busts in a 2011 exhibition, entitled ‘Facing the Museum’.  Some further images of the kinds of objects Katie discusses in this podcast can be found by scrolling through the images on the webpage for this exhibition. For her first term essay in her first year, Katie also explored the issue of race in her discussion of a late Victorian print. Click here to read Katie’s Unmaking Things post which discusses this research.