Intangible Cultural Heritage

Please Do Not Touch. Into the Worlds of Museum Guards


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Christa Nemnom

Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

MEMORIAMEDIA Review 5. Art.3. 2020




photo: Christa Nemnom  / Memória Imaterial edition


By means of oral history and research creation, this paper engages with typically unacknowledged personal narratives, particularly turning to National Gallery of Canada (NGC) museum guards. Rather than focusing on gender equity and racial diversity in exhibition programming and artist representation, my research delves into the less publicized realm of staffing, namely of security guards. Despite contributing to the operation of a national institution, the NGC guards’ unique insights are rarely taken into account or given a voice. To begin to redress this lacuna, this paper presents three oral interviews that draw directly from the guards’ perspectives and knowledge. Issues of diversity and visual representation arise, as do discussions around visitor patterns, curatorial decisions, and operational strategies. Stemming from the guards’ stories, I then suggest two collaborative projects, curatorial and organizational, in an effort to provoke reflections on inclusive and progressive solutions to longstanding systems of marginalization within art museums.



Keywords: museum guards; Oral History; interviews; curatorial project; institutional critique