On a desk in the private study of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, an old taxidermy-mounted parrot guards a small library and a vast yet obsolete ornithology collection. An excited young scientist reads aloud a script concerning the origins of the desiccated animal for the purpose of entertaining a group of visitors: it may have been the last “speaker” of a dead Indigenous language from colonial Venezuela, or a German prince’s precious gift to the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. It is not clear which of these versions, if any, might be true.
Never Spoken Again: Rogue Stories of Science and Collections is a traveling exhibition that reflects on the birth of modern collections, the institutions that sustain them, and their contingent origin stories. Revealing a universe of erasures, violence, and chance occurrences, the exhibition considers how such collections produce knowledge and perpetuate historical narratives. To do so, it brings together an international roster of artists whose works critically examine material culture, iconography, and political ecologies.
The MSU Broad presentation responds to the specific context of the university as a top-tier research institution, a site for public education, and a store of artistic, cultural, and historical knowledge. The traveling exhibition thus includes works from different Michigan State University collections. Campus collections are key access points for many students within their focus disciplines, and Never Spoken Again prompts a reexamination of these holdings and their educational potential.
The artists in the exhibition make use of the languages of museum display and ethnography to uncover stories of colonial exploitation, myths, fake currencies, war games, and the slow violence of systematic racism—all historical underpinnings of modern collections. They examine not only collected objects and the systems of distribution that facilitate their circulation, but also the subjects of study they trade in. Their work thus encourages us to consider our own agency in documenting and reimagining our histories and futures, alike.
Artists: Morehshin Allahyari, Maria Thereza Alves, François Bucher, Giuseppe Campuzano, Sofía de Grenade, Alia Farid, Laura Huertas Millán, Duane Linklater, Ulrik López, Carlos Motta, Erkan Öznur, David Peña Lopera, Claudia Peña Salinas, Michael Rakowitz, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Reyes Santiago Rojas, Daniel R. Small, Felipe Steinberg, and Fred Wilson.
Never Spoken Again: Rogue Stories of Science and Collections is a traveling exhibition curated by David Ayala-Alfonso and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI). It is the result of a new series of programs, pioneered with the support of the Hartfield Foundation, aimed at providing opportunities to alumni of ICI’s Curatorial Intensive as they move through the stages of their career, and reflecting ICI’s commitment to fostering and championing new curatorial voices who will shape the future of the field. Never Spoken Again is made possible with the generous support of ICI’s Board of Trustees and International Forum, with additional support from SAHA. Support for this project at the MSU Broad comes from the Eli and Edythe Broad endowed exhibitions fund.