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Curating Discomfort at the Hunterian Museum

The forthcoming Knowledge Exchange ‘Representing the Underrepresented’ features presentations from Zey Kussan, Museum As Muck and Zandra Yeaman, Curator of Discomfort with The Hunterian.

MGS caught up with Zandra ahead of the Knowledge Exchange to learn more about the ‘Curating Discomfort’ project:

MGS: Your role title is ‘Curator of Discomfort’, and this is part of the Curating Discomfort project. How do you interpret the word ‘discomfort’ in this respect?

Zandra Yeaman: When I first saw the project advertised, I immediately thought the ‘discomfort’ should be felt inside the institution and that it should be more than a community engagement exercise to bring in new audiences.

Historically Museums have catered to audiences that have not questioned the Museum’s authority or questioned its interpretation of the objects. Museums are not neutral; they are political spaces that favour a particular narrative that positions objects in a way that omit the uncomfortable truth. This is where the discomfort sits.

Curating Discomfort looks to establish new models and narratives around public health, social and economic inequality, gender equalities and colonial histories.  However, this is work that must be embedded within museum practice and not a one-off project.


MGS: You’re on secondment for this role. Can you tell us a bit more about your professional background, and any cross over in the role you’re seconded from that you think will apply as Curator of Discomfort?  

Zandra Yeaman: I am on secondment from The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER). CRER is a Scottish strategic racial equality charity, based in Glasgow. I am used to curating discomfort as the insistence that racism and racial inequality are ever-present in Scotland’s structures and institutions has and continues to be a cause for discomfort. For several years now I have been working and collaborating with museums and others, supporting them to reshape curatorial thinking as well agitating for Scotland’s role in empire, colonialism and slavery to be represented within history, arts and culture work.


MGS: You’ve been in the role now for five weeks, how have you found it so far, and what sort of things have you been working on? 

Zandra Yeaman: It’s been an interesting 5 weeks as the current situation with COVID-19 has had an impact on meeting with my new colleagues as well as issues with social distancing. I am currently familiarising myself with some of the collection. Community collaborations will be key to this work going forward, however there is foundation work around power and relationships before meaningful collaborations can happen. So next week I will deliver one of a series of interventions that will explore and challenge culture, power, privilege, practises and attitudes within the museum institution in preparation for work going forward.