UCLA alumna Gala Porras-Kim on how museums interpret – and preserve – the past
It is often assumed that once an object is on display in a museum, its story has reached its conclusion. Interdisciplinary artist Gala Porras-Kim challenges that notion.
Her exhibition, “The weight of a patina of time,” on display at the Fowler Museum at UCLA through Oct. 29, offers critical, and sometimes playful, evaluations of the contemporary museum’s ability to both interpret and conserve the past.
Porras-Kim was born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1984. Her father, a literature professor, met her mother, who is South Korean, while she was studying Spanish-language literature in Bogotá. In 1996, her mother’s decision to pursue a doctorate at UCLA brought the then 12-year-old Porras-Kim to Los Angeles, where she continues to live and work.
“I’ve been going to UCLA and working with the library and their collections since I was in middle school,” Porras-Kim said.
Porras-Kim earned a master’s in fine arts in 2009 from the California Institute of the Arts and a master’s degree in Latin American studies in 2012 from UCLA. The unique synthesis of Latin American history and interdisciplinary arts defines her work to this day.
She also is acutely aware of the problematic history of museums’ complicity in the control and removal of cultural artifacts from their communities of origin — a practice that results in the objects becoming severed from their original contexts, making it difficult to understand their cultural and societal significance.
And she challenges museums to provide a multitude of perspectives.
“Museums right now mostly show a singular historical narrative: ‘This ancient civilization used to be like this…’ But there are so many ways these objects have existed before and after,” she said. “We need to ensure these objects aren’t trapped in one time and place because the singular time and place they’re stuck in reveals more about what the museum wants, not the object’s trajectory.”
— July 26, 2023