Sun, Jan 02, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Aboriginal rights are not served by this exhibition

An exhibition at the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum proved to be less interesting than a visit a library

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

A visitor to the Rights of Aboriginal People exhibition is not interested in the books displayed in glass cases. And who can blame him?


It's difficult not to be rude about Rights of Aboriginal People in Taiwan -- Special Exhibition for International Human Rights Day, 2004 (2004年世界人權日特展 -- 台灣原住民的人權史詩), a show that has been shoddily put together at the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum. Laudable intentions, it seems, have produced an uninspiring and amateurish display.

Set up to mark International Human Rights Day, which falls on Dec. 10, the exhibition falls flat on a number of counts. Firstly, it was hard to find. The directions were not clear and the stairwell leading to the basement where the exhibition is housed was hidden behind a large board.

Secondly, as the the exhibition is underground, with low ceilings, limited space, poor lighting and just one exit, it feels as though one has been trapped in a bunker and this is hardly conducive to a relaxed contemplation of artifacts. In a half-hour period during the week, two families and four individuals took no longer than 10 minutes to view the entire exhibition and leave. One family actually trotted around the space and managed to cut down the viewing process to about three minutes.

Part of the reason for this was that the exhibition was boring. Large colored boards were stuck to the walls and these were covered by text and blurred photos. I watched but hardly anyone bothered to read what was written, though it dealt with what appeared to be interesting subjects, such as the theory of Austronesian migrations, the work of Japanese ethnologists in the 1930s and the encroachment of interlopers, roads and railways into Aboriginal territory. There was no English translation.

But these are minor irritations compared to the overall impression that the exhibition had been conceived and put together by school children, with little idea of how to present and explicate. For instance, there were nine glass cases framed with bamboo. Inside were books. And not even particularly old ones. And most of them weren't even open. A visit to the library would have been more interesting.

The few Aboriginal artifacts that were on show -- four rusty knives and some beads on a string -- were hardly inspiring. There were a couple of ceramic electrical components, a Japanese soldier's helmet and a bakelite phone. I've seen better historical objects sold by old Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) soldiers offering trinkets displayed on blankets in the streets of Ximending.

The absurdity of the exhibition was most fully realized by a display of old postcards -- again in a glass cabinet -- showing "savages" smoking pipes or posing, uncomfortably, in front of thatched houses. You can buy many of these postcards at several shops in Taipei, so why they deserved to be put under glass is anyone's guess.

On a positive note the volun-teers were pleasant and helpful and the rest of the museum, which deals with the 228 Incident and the subtext of Taiwan independence, is worth a visit. Also, 228 Memorial Peace Park is a pleasant place to stroll around and has two old trains in one big glass case, ponds with fish, a display of cannons, an outdoor amphitheater and pagodas for quiet reflection.

Exhibition notes:

What: Rights of Aboriginal People in Taiwan -- Special Exhibition for International Human Rights Day, 2004 (2004年世界人權日特展 -- 台灣原住民的人權史詩)

Where: 228 Memorial Peace Park (台北二二八紀念館), 3, Ketagalan Rd, Taipei (台北市凱達格蘭大道3).

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