The World’s Museums Are Working Out How to Remember the PandemicBreaking News
tags: museums, cultural history, recent history, COVID-19
Memorializing a pandemic that isn’t over yet might seem like a strange idea. But around the world, museums are beginning to collect and display artefacts that reflect experiences of Covid-19. As they preserve the here-and-now for future audiences, a few are also offering a chance to contemplate it in something close to real time.
Approaches differ among the collections, but certain themes crop up again and again: social isolation, rethinking relationships, and the kind of medical paraphernalia that suddenly became commonplace about a year and a half ago.
The National Museum of Singapore is one of the few places to hold a physical exhibition (the Chinese city of Wuhan, Covid’s original epicenter, is another).
“We knew that if we didn’t commence it now, the time will be lost,” said NMS senior curator Daniel Tham.
Assembled in four months, Picturing the Pandemic features 272 commissioned photographs, a short film and Covid-related artefacts such as the vial from the first vaccine administered in the city.
The darkened gallery space feels contemplative and the exhibition focuses on community experience. Images depict postal staff at work, elderly residents alone at home and migrant workers in isolation on a cruise ship after recovering from Covid. Empty tables and chairs symbolize hawker centers, the semi-open-air food courts that hold an important place in the city-state’s culture and that suffered badly when the pandemic hit.
A physical exhibition is possible in Singapore because of the city’s relative success in taming the virus. In a population of 5.7 million, more than 2 million people are fully vaccinated, and new daily cases average about a dozen.
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