cultural biography of things”, Kopytoff (1988) describes the commoditization
and singularization of things as a shared cultural and cognitive process.
Through culture, the process of discrimination and classification brings order
to a diverse world of things. Within a society, the forces of commoditization
(that gives exchange value to the world of things) works in counterdrive to
that of culture, that ensures things stay singular (outside of exchange value)
and sometimes resingularizes what has previously been commoditized. Within each
society, the shifting of cultural values ensures that some objects move between
the spheres of commodity and singular. In order to examine this shifting of cultural
values, a biography of thing must be examined (Kopytoff, 1988).
that Kopytoff’s biographical approach provides when doing a biography of the
Benin Bronzes, is a biography of cultural contact, when ‘alien objects’ are
adopted, ‘cultural redefined and put to use’ through successive singularizations.
What emerges when examining the object biography of the bronzes is not only a
history of ownership but also a biography of successive singularizations that
merge within each age of the bronzes “life”. These successive ages
outline a cultural biography through the proximity of empires and periods
within history. The biographical approach gives context to how African objects
have been addressed differently within museum history and, how this links to
new modes of addressing African objects within contemporary practices. Most
importantly, this approach should allow for an understanding of how these
singularizations reflect the museum as instruments of power, where new realities
and knowledge are produced through the singularizations of objects. In doing
the cultural biography of the bronzes, I would like to ask, where do these
objects come from and who made them? What are the periods in the bronzes
“life”? And what are the cultural markers for those periods?