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Students to present research at Mathers Museum Friday


Roundtable discussion will focus on art, tourism

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By Sanya Ali



The Mathers Museum of World Cultures offers opportunities for students to conduct research on the artifacts in its collections. Through practicum courses, students have the chance to spend an entire semester examining artwork from across the globe.

Two students enrolled in the museum practicum course will soon have the opportunity to share their findings in a casual, roundtable format. Addie McKnight and Rachel Tavaras present their respective research projects at 4 p.m. Friday at the ?museum.

The jewelry senior Tavaras analyzed for her project comes from the Dee Birnbaum collection, which includes pieces from North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

“My research is mostly led into tourist culture looking into Western influence of these artifacts,” Tavaras said.

Tavaras said she sifted through around 1,900 pieces to find the jewelry she would examine. Some of them were organized by type and not culture, which made her job a bit more challenging as she searched for the specific regions she was interested in.

“Writing detailed descriptions of things helped to immerse myself into the project and figure out patterns, what sort of things were heavily represented and what sort of things weren’t, and figure out what would be the most important to research,” she said.

McKnight, who graduated from IU in December but returned to volunteer and work on practicum through the museum, said her work focuses on tourism via both traditional and nontraditional art forms. The pieces she analyzed are paintings and masks from the museum’s Tibetan artifacts collection.

“I’ve been sort of honing in on two paintings and two masks and doing almost a comparative study between the two, and then that led to a discussion about tourism culture in the same way Rachel’s project did,” McKnight said.

The interest in comparison, she said, stems from looking at a specific painting in the museum collection that does not follow the previously prescribed set of rules for Tibetan religious art.

Most artwork from this region closely resembles past pieces of the same genre, McKnight said. One of Mathers’ paintings does not fall into the pattern.

“That being sort of the launching point for my whole talk and my research, finding that abnormal piece was probably the most interesting thing,” McKnight said.

The experience, McKnight said, was a first for her in that she had to do a large amount of background research. Her items had not been thoroughly examined in the past, so she had to dig up archival records to fill in the gaps.

“Not only being up close and personal with the objects but trying to piece together history, which is what pretty much everyone is doing here,” McKnight said. “For me, it was a first-time ?experience.”

Ellen Sieber, chief curator at Mathers and facilitator of McKnight and Tavaras’ research, said people should attend this talk because of the opportunity to hear two informed researchers speaking about a distinct collection of art pieces.

“This is a rare opportunity to hear about and see museum objects not on exhibit, and it is a great opportunity to hear from IU students who are passionate about their studies,” Sieber said.

Art and commerce do not need to be seen as distinctive, Tavaras and McKnight said. Tourism is not always destructive to a culture.

“We’re dealing a lot with the issues,” McKnight said. “Not only dealing with objects of the past but also objects of the future and what’s currently coming out of these cultures that we’re looking at sort of how this historical progression is going,”

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