World Museum in Liverpool asked comedian Daliso Chaponda this question and invited him to explore some of its behind-the-scenes objects to open discussions around curation, provenance and looted objects. The display opens 2 April.
A new intervention at World Museum’s World Cultures Gallery will open on 2 April 2022, in collaboration with comedian Daliso Chaponda.
In Are Museums A Laughing Matter? Daliso Chaponda uses comedy to interrogate the collections, their histories and how we interpret them. His performances will be shown across the gallery from five video screens, offering a different perspective on how we view museum objects.
In the series of videos, Daliso asks if museums can be trusted, giving the examples of a hunting knife donated to World Museum by George Pearse, inscribed with his claim that he had used it to kill a tiger, and a brick donated by Lieutenant William England on which he has written that it is from the Great Wall of China. The comedian asks questions about object origins, selection, interpretation and asks whether stolen objects should be returned.
Daliso points out the flaws in past collecting methods and colonial ideology, using comedy to explore issues of culture, race and empire.
Daliso Chaponda, comedian, said:
Taking part in the Are Museums a Laughing Matter? was fun, challenging and rewarding. So much of my comedy is about re-examining history, colonialism, slavery etcetera and so it was eye opening and often surprising to be looking at how history is presented. I thought it would be hard to find the funny, but it was easier than expected because relic hunters, museum curators and archaeologists are (no offense guys) truly bonkers.
Janet Dugdale, Executive Director of Museums & Participation, National Museums Liverpool, said:
Across National Museums Liverpool, we have been looking at how we move forward in an open and honest way with our colonial collections. Our team at World Museum has opened up the stores to comedian Daliso Chaponda and laid curatorial practices open too, potentially for criticism. Are Museums A Laughing Matter? is the latest collaboration in our #WMWhereNext campaign, all of which contribute, in different ways, to ongoing discussions about the future of our colonial collections. We hope to reach out to visitors in a new way through this intervention.
Daliso Chaponda shot to fame on Britain’s Got Talent and has gone on to amass over 200 million views on Facebook and YouTube. He wrote and starred in his own BBC Radio 4 show Citizen of Nowhere and has appeared on The Apprentice: You’re Fired, The News Quiz, Unspun with Matt Forde and The Now Show.
Are Museums A Laughing Matter? is the latest in a series of three interventions in the World Cultures Gallery at World Museum. It follows on from Benin and Liverpool and I, too, am a Survivor, all of which are part of the Museum’s #WMWhereNext campaign.