Global Dialogues: Preserving Memories
Join Randall Mason, Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, and Julia Brennan, Textile Conservator at Caring for Textiles, in discussing how negative heritage can help repair social misgivings. Referencing their work with PennPraxis, they share their expertise, experiences, and concerns regarding the conservation of Rwanda’s national genocide memorials. Join this conversation, along with Brown University Professor Dietrich Neumann, to consider cultural and historic preservation.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a cataclysmic event that has placed commemoration at the center of intense political and cultural debates. Memorials to the Rwandan genocide are complex, evolving sites designed to provide evidence, enable mourning, and allow remembrance and reflection for survivors as well as outsiders. Conservation of the genocide memorials has gained urgency and raised long-term issues, including repair of extensive textile and artifact collections and preservation of buildings and landscapes. The memorial at Nyamata Church is a particularly rich example of the struggle to balance authenticity, integrity, curatorial care, interpretation and long-term sustainability of these traumatic heritage places. Randall and Julia’s work is not only engaged in the repair of the victims’ clothing and extending the lives of these very personal objects, but the clothing themselves, with their own repairs, which tell stories about those who wore and used them, and the importance of cloth to daily life.
Free with admission.
Julia M. Brennan, Caring for Textiles, has worked in the field of textile conservation since 1985. She is passionately committed to conservation education and the protection of cultural property. Since 2000, she has led multiple textile and preventative conservation workshops in Bhutan, Madagascar, Algeria, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan, and Thailand. Julia received her Bachelor degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and a Masters in art crime from The Association for Research in Crimes Against Art, 2010. Her profession, however, has also brought her into contact with humanity's darkest moments, including genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia. Brennan has been working at Nyamata Memorial Site in Rwanda, and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, since 2015. She has developed a program of training local stakeholders, often survivors, in methods of preventive conservation - establishing site specific, innovative and sensitive protocols for triage, mass treatment, documentation, and long-term care of extremely degraded materials, deeply infused with emotion and memories. Each item of clothing tells a victim’s story – some have embroidered initials and names, loving repairs, or hidden pockets for valuables. "You're not going to necessarily cry …when you see a skull, but when you see a skirt that's the same pattern as your late mother's, then that's going to bring these memories that are so palpable, and this is so powerful. Our strongest feelings linger in our tactile surroundings. I am really humbled by this work to save these important memories. Our work literally breathes life into something that died. Each stain, wrinkle, tear triggers a memory, visualizing the passage of time, telling the details of that person. Step by step, the clothing emerges as an important part of the story, with references for survivors and others.” Julia Brennan, on site at Tuol Sleng, 2018
Randall Mason plays several roles at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design: Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning; Senior Fellow at PennPraxis; and (until recently, 2009-2017) Chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. Before arriving at Penn in 2004, he taught at University of Maryland and RISD, and worked at the Getty Conservation Institute and in private practice. Educated in geography, history and urban planning (PhD, Columbia, 1999), his published work includes The Once and Future New York (winner of the SAH Antoinette Forrester Downing Award). Mason’s professional work includes projects at many scales, addressing preservation, planning, and public space issues, commissioned by organizations including the Getty Conservation Institute, William Penn Foundation, Brookings Institution, the City of Philadelphia, the National Park Service, and the Government of Rwanda. He lives in Philadelphia and was a Rome Prize fellow at the American Academy in Rome 2012-13.