The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington DC and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris are two very different museums, but both similarly reflect long, complex histories of Western colonialism and imperialism with all their attendant violence, appropriation, cultural exchange and hybridity – and both have been highly controversial. Having had the chance to visit each within the last year, I was struck by the overlaps and divergences between the two enterprises, and by the possibilities the contrasts between them might offer Western institutions displaying works that were once – and often still are – hived off under the deeply unstable, problematic category of the ‘anthropological artefact’.
Nick Waplington’s latest show at the Whitechapel Laboratory is a slow burner. It’s surely permissible after all to feel disheartened when presented with a slew of 1,000 photographs trawled from image-sharing Internet sites. Photographs like these – generic landscapes, family parties, friends going out, getting pissed and getting off with each other – are all too familiar for anyone with a facebook or myspace account, and are usually only of any interest those who took or feature in them. This almost painfully generic commonality, however, is precisely what makes the exhibition splutter into life, generating provocative questions about human interaction.