Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sisters of Sainte-Anne Historic Centre

You have to ring the doorbell to be allowed access to The Sisters of Sainte-Anne Historic Centre. Inside we are greeted by two women who are desperate for a visitor to share their story with.
The Sisters of Sainte-Anne Historic Centre, even more so than the Musée des Hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, explores religious patrimony from a subjective position. The space is a memorial to Marie-Anne Blondin and the Sisters of Saint Anne. Yet because the Sisters of Saint-Anne are actively involved in the museum's programming and exhibitions the Centre is a religious museum, rather than a museum about religion. This is a museum driven by content instead of museology. The passion is there but the execution is lacking. The material is unclear, there are doors hanging from the ceiling, and the narrative is awkward. I'm almost getting bored of pointing out translation issues. Hat weared by... Dress wear by the sisters... Montreal, I will look over your translations for free! Seriously. It will be a heck of a lot more professional, even if you do only get a few visitors a day, and even if they're rarely anglophone.

This is what the museum blurb promises: "The Sisters of Sainte-Anne Historic Centre offers you access to the unique world of a convent dating from the 19th century. Its great hall will let you walk in the footsteps of the Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin, who devoted her life to education. Our exhibition will allow you to discover various aspects of the daily life and history of the Sisters of Saint Anne." Where to start. First, the convent is certainly not a unique world. If we were talking about a mosque in 19th century Montreal, then yes, that would be unique. Second, learning about daily life could be interesting, but this museum makes it as boring as possible. The facts and figures aren't particularly attention grabbing. It would certainly be eye opening for students in todays largely secular Montreal. Educators could have great discussions about devotion (devoted to God versus devoted to our ipods?) or nuns' isolation from society versus our own connected to technology but disconnected from each other kind of isolation. I'm reaching a bit, but there's a lot there. It just requires a bit more objectivity and room for criticism than a museum that promotes religious life can maybe allow for. The museum is boring, but I don't think it has to be.

Every museum has at least one redeeming quality. In this case it was a little temporary exhibit about the congregation's active history of arts instruction. One sister went on to receive a diploma from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in a time where women didn't typically do so. The diploma itself assumes that a man will be the recipient and the M for Monsieur is crossed out to accomodate the sister's name. That is a story that doesn't get told as often as the straightforward history of the congregation. The art that the sisters produced is largely comprised of copies or weird religious abstracts, but there is passion and dedication behind this exhibit. Unfortunately, passion and dedication aren't enough to make this museum as interesting and successful as it could be.

25 down. 7 to go.

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