University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

PHILADELPHIA – Opening March 29, Memory Keepers: Why Objects Matter is a year-long exhibition that’s curated by three undergraduate students from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences, with the mentorship of staff from the Penn Museum.

To develop the exhibition, from concept planning to researching and selecting related artifacts from the Museum’s collections to installation and design, a team of staff and faculty worked with:

  • Malkia Okech, a senior Near Eastern Studies major, hails from Derby, Conn. She has conducted research as a part of the Museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials and plans to reconstruct the tomb of Osiris, map its landscape, and produce models of its funerary assemblages for her senior thesis on Abydos, Egypt.
  • Megan McKelvey, a junior double majoring in Biological Anthropology and Music, is from Murrysville, Pa. She balances extensive coursework in the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials while performing in four Penn instrumental music ensembles.
  • Madison Greiner of Havertown, Pa., a senior who will earn diplomas from both Penn and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts through a joint-degree program. She’s served as an archaeological illustrator with the Rayy Project, creating images of artifacts that will be published in the second edition of the book, “Rayy: From its Origins to the Mongol Invasion, An Archaeological and Historiographer Study.”
Objects in gallery

“Objects have the power to hold meaning and memory. They can help us remember our pasts, where we’re from, and the relationships we most value,” says Kate Quinn, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs. “The exhibition draws upon the Museum’s vast collections to tell a story about making memory through objects. Objects from North America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean will help illustrate how objects have been used for commemoration.”

The idea arose from the Provost’s annual theme, the Year of Why, as well as the Penn Book choice, the “Bridge of San Luis Rey,” by Thornton Wilder.

To launch Memory Keepers: Why Objects Matter, each of the three students will host The Daily Dig, a free 15-minute “deep dive” into one piece of the Penn Museum’s collection, during which they will explain one object that they’ve personally selected from the exhibition, highlighting how certain artifacts hold memories of and for individuals and communities.

  • Friday, March 29: Okech will discuss a mbira, a finger piano from East Africa, which serves as one very evocative representation of the Museum’s African collection while its Africa Galleries are undergoing renovations as part of the ongoing Building Transformation project. The newly reimagined Africa Galleries will reopen in November 2019.
  • Saturday, March 30: Greiner will present an ex voto, a small painting from Mexico circa 1823, that tells the story of a man who was blinded and invoked Our Lady of Sorrows. This is the first time it will be on public display at the Museum. More than 260 additional objects from the region will be on view in November, when the Museum reopens its Mexico & Central America Gallery as a part of the Building Transformation.
  • Sunday, March 31: McKelvey will explore the meaning behind a 19th century Japanese Buddhist ancestor tablet, part of a family’s household shrine.

After its opening, the students and Museum staff will continue to collaborate, creating educational programs and events surrounding Memory Keepers: Why Objects Matter.


Images from left to right: Kowar; Ex Voto; Stela of Sasopedu-iienhab; Sappho Ring; Bear Paw Water Jar; Mbira. Photos: Penn Museum Archives.

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