IAS Intersections

Exhibit of Student Work from Museum Cultures Class

IAS Intersections

Culturally Grounded Storytelling through Objects

Raissa DeSmet's (see faculty feature) Museum Cultures class focused on the politics of display. Working in partnership with The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, the course examined the history of collection and display in the West as colonial enterprises.

By taking on the role of researcher-curator, students challenge traditional notions who can know—and what can be known—in museum spaces.


After an initial exploration of objects as “storytellers,” students were invited to identify materials in their own families/communities that they wanted to investigate. They unpacked these objects using a range of methods, including oral history writing. At the end of the quarter, they shared their experiences and discoveries in a class exhibition with both visual and (written) textual elements.


Bryanna Bui: "Vietnam to America from my father, Dung Bui"

Bryanna Bui and father lighting incense

Recollect, Refuge, Remember

It wasn’t our choice to decide,

Whether we stay or whether we denationalize.

“First I was kind of disarray,” war, escape, and the unknown

as my father describes his journey as a young child

as he tries to recollect and reflect his experience to give his say.

Being so young, my father admits he thought it was just a game

But now, as he speaks to his daughter,

he’s finally able to put his immigration into frame.

“I remember”

Vibrant memories of what was home.

A navy-based neighborhood, two family servants, being well-off, no expectations.

On Tet, the Lunar New Year,

Going to the temple, we’d have days off, buy fruit, birds, and new shoes, it was a big celebration.

We’d light incense and pray at the altar to Buddha and our ancestors.

These were the cultural traditions and practices – doing as our parents had taught.

Now in America, I ask my father about whether he’ll teach me and my sister the same practices,

he responds with

“I forgot.”

Ale Castillo: “Guatemalan”

Ale Castillo with purse and family

For my oral history project, I chose a traditional purse from Guatemala. This purse was gifted to me by my grandmother when I was 12 years old. The purse is a small shoulder purse that is beautiful purple and pink tones, with detailed flower embroidery in the front with the words “Guatemala.” I hold the purse very close to my heart because to me it is a connection that I have with my grandmother. My grandmother lives in Guatemala and I do not get to see her very often. When I use the purse it reminds me of my grandma and I feel connected to her….Part of me feels like I am not allowed to identify as “Guatemalan” because there is so much about the culture that I don’t know, but this purse helps me feel a bit closer to being able to identify.

Amandeep Kaur: Discovering my family history

Amandeep Kaur's family necklace

I asked only a few specific questions during our talk (e.g., how did you get this object). I actually had little need to say anything. There was no stopping my mom once she got started. Since my mom is not an English speaker, the whole interview was conducted in Punjabi as we both speak and understand Punjabi very well.

"Can you tell me more about the necklace?"

"The necklace and earrings are the part of our family since eight generations now. My father in law’s great grandfather used to work for the King. Once he saved King’s only son’s life. He risked his life to save the King’s son from deadly snake. The King’s wife was impressed by his bravery and as a result gave him this necklace and earrings. Since then this necklace and earrings are passed to daughter-in-law of the family from one generation to another."

Yalda Faezi: "Daftarche Monajat"

daftarche monajat

The object that I’m presenting is a religious, Bahá'í prayer book; a ‘daftarche monajat’ translates to ‘book of prayers’ in Farsi. The reason I chose this object is because it’s incredibly sentimental to me. It was passed down from my grandparents to my parents and now to me and my husband. I read prayers from it nightly and carry it with me when we go on long distant trips.

It gives me a sense of comfort and protection knowing it’s with me. Bahá'ís have and continue to face ongoing persecution since its inception in 1863. The religion initially grew in Iran and parts of the Middle East; where the majority of people practice Islam. Since the religion is new and some Bahá'í teachings are inconsistent with traditional Islamic belief, they are faced with having to choose between repentance and death. This is the reason my family fled Iran.

I did my interview with my mother; who knows more about this prayer book. My grandparents purchased this prayer book in the 60s and it was quite the illegal thing to do. My mother expressed how happy she is to have had this prayer as it got her through some difficult times.

I am so beyond grateful that my grandparents purchased this prayer book, although it was illegal to do so, and I feel blessed to have access to it today. Even to this day, practicing the Bahá'í religion in Iran is illegal and purchasing of any kind of Bahá'í teachings is illegal. I will forever be a proud Bahá'í and I will never stop spreading the word of how Bahá'ís are mistreated in Iran, although it unfortunately never makes the news.

Nura Abdi: "Indegenity and cultural indentity: The importance of speaking one’s truth"

Nura Abdi with necklace

My mom escaped war when she was 16 years old. But when the war broke out, she had to run away. When all that happened, she prayed Somalia went back to how it was when she lived there. This necklace was the only peice she brought over with her when we moved to the US as refugees. She brought over it from Somalia and has kept it ever since then. She wears it because of how much it made her think of back home, of how Somalia used to be like.