More on what's sparking off some key museum-related ideas, from STEP into the Smithsonian trainee Mohammed Rahman

Have you read part 1 of Mohammed's thoughts on museums and the STEP into the Smithsonian yet? Go here to catch up!

Now, he shares his third and final idea, inspired by the team's upcoming trip to Washington DC. How have archiving practices been affected in recent times? Read on...


3) As archiving technologies are getting better and more accessible, the patterns between generations are becoming easier to trace and the past is increasingly easier to delve into from the present. People are unwittingly self-archiving on social media in greater numbers than before. It’s funny, knowing we’re the first generations to do this new kind of time, on this scale.

With personal archives at our fingertips, I’ve been thinking how our experience of history is less a timeline and more a game of snakes and ladders. Throwbacks, dreams and déjà vu jump us at every corner. Visions of the past and future mingled with each other and the present.

The snakes in the board-game analogy are those triggers of nostalgia that take us into the act of remembering, the sneaky polaroid taken at a wedding, the smell of frying garlic or a song from three summers ago, thumping out of a speaker. We experience throwbacks overlaid with our present, which are likewise multisensory and speak to us through a shared point of reference.

Now the ladders. We also encounter visions of the future. Futurisms are always in the image of the present from which they spring. Let’s look at the example of Morbo the News Monster in Matt Groening’s Futurama. A staple of the show, set in the year 3000CE, is the Planet Express team being notified of sudden world-events by televised newsflashes. If we appreciate how Futurama was made in the 90s and 00s, a time where reality television and the newsroom had become a hallmarks of the technological age, we can see how the newsroom stakes a central place in that universe.

Today, barely two decades later, the newsroom and our friends Riz Lateef, Jon Snow and Morbo are but one small part of the news. People are increasingly taking their news from on-the-ground posts and tweets, from multiple and simultaneous news sources. Fact-checking has become an integral part of conversation, I mean, how many times has a heated debate ended with “shall we just Google it?”. Futurama’s inability to foresee this shift, is telling- we find it difficult to relate to or imagine a future massively removed from our present. I imagine that the current wave of pop futurism a la Janelle Monae’s and FKA Twigs’ Afro-futurist aesthetics will look very dated someday as has been the case with Sun Ra before them.

I’d like to see more futurism in museums. When visions of the future are showcased, they serve as interesting tools, not only to derive hope for immediate social issues but also retrospectively, to study the zeitgeist of the past through what people’s dreams were at the time. We need to bear in mind these interactions when we curate. All futurisms become retrofuturisms, and they are important indicators of how we express our place in history.

Snakes and Ladders.jpg

On that note, I’ll leave you lot with these thoughts... Next time you hear from us will be from the United States. See you on the other side! ??


You can find Mohammed's work on Instagram:

Photography by Ketishia Vaughan, illustrations by Mohammed Rahman