Healing the Scars of the Past: A Conversation with Sarah Clunis, Curator of African Collection at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

Jennifer Berglund

Welcome to HMSC Connects!, where we go behind the scenes of four Harvard museums to explore the connections between us, our big, beautiful world, and even what lies beyond. My name is Jennifer Berglund, part of the exhibits team here at the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, and I'll be your host!

 

Jennifer Berglund

Today, I'm speaking with Sarah Clunis, the Director of Academic Partnerships for the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the new curator of their African collection. Sarah is Jamaican, and deeply connected to the African diaspora through her own family history, a bond that has guided her throughout her career. As we're now in the midst of Black History Month, Sarah reflects on her work as part of her own personal journey of healing from the scars of the past, which she hopes might heal others as well. Here she is! Sarah Clunis, welcome to the show!

 

Sarah Clunis

Thanks, Jennie. Thanks so much for having me!

 

Jennifer Berglund

Let's go back in time, a little bit. You grew up in Jamaica, and you're the daughter of parents with a very unique family history, both of them. Tell me about those histories, and how your parents came together. And how do you think all of that shaped who you are today?

 

Sarah Clunis

My mother's family descended from Spanish Portuguese Jews. They trace their history all the way back to Spain in the end of the 15th century. And there are different aspects of the Spanish Portuguese Jews, the Sephardic Jews, coming from different areas of Europe. So during the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 15th century, which we also understand to the age of exploration, there's a reason for that. All of these people who are being really oppressed within the European continent by the Spanish Inquisition, and then the Inquisition at large, really, are fleeing. They're fleeing Europe, and ships are the only way that you can really do that. So I have Sephardic ancestry from Holland, I have Sephardic ancestry from Brazil. I have Sephardic ancestry from a variety of places in the Caribbean where Spanish Portuguese Jews fled to at the end of the 15th century. And part of the reason why it's such a concentrated history is because Sephardim with the same exact culture of coming from Spain and Portugal, were committed to marrying other Sephardim Jews from that culture because they had a particular history of hiding. You may have heard of Marranos, they hid, and sometimes they acted as though they were Christians in order to survive, but they practiced Jewish traditions in secret. So I have this long history, my family came to Jamaica as ship people, so they were navigators. And they continued to be navigators for a very long time, even to the point where when I when I was growing up all of my grandfather's brothers, there were 13 siblings in all, they all had boats, of various sizes, small, big, whatever. But they were always going out on the boats every weekend, either to fish. Boats were a very huge part of my mother's Jewish culture. But she's been there and her family has been there for centuries in Jamaica. My father's family I know less about their history, primarily because it's an African history. My father was primarily of African descent. He had some South Asian genetic culture. His grandfather on his mother's side was from Madras, which is now Chennai, so the very south of India. But I would say primarily based on genetics, we now have access to all this genetics, the large majority of my genetic culture from Africa is Nigerian. So my father's family were very culturally Jamaican, but I think, also growing up in the earlier part of the 20th century, people were sometimes not understanding how to be proud of being African because being African was connected to being enslaved. And so I think that a lot of that history I didn't get really passed down to me from my father's family, but more from just being born into a Jamaican culture in the 70s that was very pro African, and it was very Pan African. We studied a lot about Negritude. We knew about Nkrumah in Ghana, Césaire, Fanon, Bob Marley was very big. I was really sort of born into this post-colonial world that emphasized very much the African experience. As Jamaicans we were African, regardless of how light skinned we may be, or how colonial really because Jamaica was a British colony for such a long time. Despite that influence, which I think Jamaicans still have a huge post-colonial influence from Britain, we really regarded ourselves as Africans and the cultural landscape that I lived within, the artwork. My grandfather was a collector. He was chair of the National Gallery of Art. So we were there all the time. And the images that I saw were portraits of black people. They were portraits of Jamaicans of African descent, even Jamaicans of mixed race. We went to the National Dance Theatre Company, we saw dances that were related to African dances. The music that we heard was very specifically related to African rhythms. So I was immersed in this diaspora that was committed to claiming its African identity. So even though I was this person who was part of this very insular Jewish community in one way, I was also very much part of the, the zeitgeist. And during the 70s, it was very much about understanding one's African roots.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Although you grew up in Jamaica, you went to boarding school and then college in Massachusetts. Tell me about that, and how did it feel to be a foreigner in such an elite space at such a young age? And how do you think that experience shaped your interests?

 

Sarah Clunis

I came to Massachusetts when I was 14, to go to boarding school in Wellesley, Massachusetts at a place called Dana Hall. It was a big culture shock for me, but not to visit, right. We had traveled around a lot. My parents were very cosmopolitan. And they had traveled with us in Europe, and throughout the United States. We'd been to New York City, we'd also traveled quite a bit to England because my father's mother lived there. She was part of the first wave of Caribbean immigrants to London. Coming here was exciting and interesting to me. I am a very curious person, and very adventurous still am. But you know, living in a boarding school in Wellesley, Massachusetts was a huge culture shock from Kingston.

 

Jennifer Berglund

I can imagine.

 

Sarah Clunis

I loved it in one way, I think because in many ways I had so many opportunities to learn and we got to travel. I went to Harvard Square on weekends, it's my first introduction to the Peabody. I saw the works in the Peabody, I was fascinated. I think that's the first place I saw African objects.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Really?

 

Sarah Clunis

At the Peabody, yeah, yeah. Because in Jamaica, you saw Jamaican art. There is actually quite a lovely collection of African objects at the Institute of Jamaica, but they weren't on display. I only discovered that later when I was doing research into my dissertation. The Peabody had African objects on display and I think I really connected to the objects very deeply, but also just everything that that this area has to offer. I love Massachusetts. There's something about the land that I feel very connected to. And I know I'm just a settler on the land, but I feel connected to the people and the culture here. And I think it has maybe to do that with the fact that my parents had a ritual here that began the beginning of our journey together as a family. Even though it was challenging to be hair in the snow, and away from my Caribbean life and environment, I really, I think, rose to the challenge. And you know what, even though I didn't see how it was really preparing me, now that I'm back here, you know, at the Peabody, at Harvard, I can see wow, this was just the beginning of it. You know, people ask me questions, like, what does it mean to be mixed, you know, they couldn't understand that people of different races got married and had children, raised families. You could be something not white or not black only, that you could be mixed with different things. That you could date, whoever you like, that was one question a student had for me she was like, oh, you know, you can date black people or white people. I said you can date anybody you want. How do you think I got here, you know? It's like, but these students even though they were very wealthy, and they're coming from a very elite background, they still didn't have as much, I think, in many ways exposure to the world. I mean, coming from a third world country at the time, we were very informed about what was going on internationally. Now, there's a very international population there as well, but a lot of the students like from Wellesley or the surrounding areas, were just kind of in their own little world, you know, and so I got asked if I lived in a hut had ever driven in a car before I came here. Yeah, it was really interesting. By the time I was a child almost every one of my friends was mixed race and in different ways, right? One parent was Indian, another parent was black. One parent was Chinese, another parent was Haitian mixed. The landscape was a mixed landscape. Coming to the States, I dealt with race more profoundly than I would in Jamaica. You know, Jamaica, the issues were definitely more class oriented, although they are race oriented, too. It's just a different conversation in Jamaica because you have such a predominance of people of African descent, even if they're very light skinned, even if they're mixed with Indian or Chinese or Middle Eastern, you're still the dominant culture is Africa, but you have some very strong class issues. We're still recovering from slavery. To this day, I would say it's definitely still a post-slavery post-colonial culture. You know, Jamaica was established by the British as primarily a slaveholding society. So you would have 800 people of African descent to every one white person, right. And it was really like a plantation machine. So it's the recovery from that trauma I think that is the work that Jamaicans have been trying to do for a very long time, but primarily since independence, which was in the 60s, 62 to be exact.

 

Sarah Clunis

It must have just been such a, I don't want to call it a shock, but just such a change to go to this kind of elite intellectual space in Massachusetts where people don't understand interracial couples.

 

Sarah Clunis

There were other people of mixed race there from the Caribbean, and I was very much connected with the African American student association, at Dana Hall. And we went to dances with other African American student associations like Choate, Milton, and Exeter, and things like that. So I met a lot of other people from other schools who were of African descent, and there was a very strong supportive environment. But it showed me that even in elite societies and elite institutions, that there is a need for education that has to do with cultural education, and that there are elements of pain. And I think the need for healing. And I saw that very obviously because I've felt that I was in a role that was primarily educating other people when I was there. People would ask questions, and I knew about American history because America was a first world country. So we learned American history. But I also knew about Mesoamerican culture, and pre Columbian history and Caribbean history and African history. So what I recognized was that even in these elite institutions, that there can be one type of history or one type of conversation. Our histories can really support our own story, our own personal story. So the histories that I was encountering, were really supporting European history and the European story. So I recognize that there was a need to tell a different story. And that's coming from a place that had prepared me for that. So that was really the beginning of my journey, you know, in recognizing I was like, Oh, this is really cool. It's really beautiful. There's a lot of money here. And there's a lot of privilege here, but there's still pain. And there's still questions and we have a human experience. And sometimes being privileged and elite can prevent one from having the full human experience.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Originally, when you reached college, you wanted to be a biologist, and study entomology, in fact, which is near and dear to my heart.

 

Sarah Clunis

Love insects!

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yes! And you practiced scientific illustration which made you appreciate what you termed "concentrated looking". What do you mean by that and how do you think that work shaped you as an art historian?

 

Sarah Clunis

I went to Simmons College, which is right next to the Gardner Museum and really close to Mass College of Art, and then also very close to the MFA and the MFA school. So I was really, I think, I became a product of my environment. I know that there are tons of people go Simmons who don't end up doing art history or art, but I am a very site specific person. You know, there was just so much art, it was like insects, really, that was really what was going on around me. And I had already been surrounded by so much art growing up because of my family. And I was always very much focused on being in Africa. I wanted to go to Africa. I wanted to be there. I wanted to do something that was connected to the continent. And I think part of that was really trying to figure out who I was as a person of African descent. So I knew I want to do entomology. That was my thing. I was really interested in insects. I was really interested in classification, I still am interested in classification,

 

Jennifer Berglund

Any particular kind of insects?

 

Sarah Clunis

I really like butterflies and moths. What is it lepid- lepidoptery? Yeah, exactly, yes. But yeah, it's interesting. I'm particularly interested in moths, I actually prefer them to butterflies. I think butterflies are just a thing that everybody loves, kind of like flowers. But I really am interested in botany, too, love botany. So I have a lot of books of botanical and entomological illustrations. But this classification, spending hours and hours on my drawings and bio lab, and my lab instructor was like, really maybe you should go to the art department. You know, maybe you should do that. So I took art history courses as an elective and it became pretty clear right away that that was what I needed to be doing. That was definitely what I was born to do. But you're right about the concentrated looking. I am curious person. The two fictional characters that I relate to most are Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Oh, I love that.

 

Sarah Clunis

I think that would be a competition between who is the most curious, right. And that's really all I have. And of course, as a result I have produced for very curious children, which is not easy. It's not easy.

 

Jennifer Berglund

I didn't realize you had four children. Wow, four.

 

Sarah Clunis

Yeah, ranging from 16 to 8. And they're all curious. I also partnered with a curious person, as well. So there's a lot of discovery and getting into trouble that happens with us. The best thing about us is that we're our marauding traveling band of Bedouins, really, we love to travel and go from place to place and discover new things.

 

Jennifer Berglund

I love that I think the best thing a parent can give a child is curiosity.

 

Sarah Clunis

Absolutely. So the house is filled with curious objects and books about objects and books about insects and animals and different cultures. So that curiosity that really focused on looking, I'm a very visual person. And to me, there is something about the effective presence, the vibrant matter, if you will, about objects. I think communities are more than human problems, I think the things that we define as problems and even warfare, strife, those kinds of things are really focused around objects or bodies of living things like water, or land, right, treasures, if you will. All of these things, I think, have a role in how we interact with each other as human beings. And I think the effective presence of things has a lot to do with how we interact with the world, you know, we are collectors. This may sound a little spiritual, but I really believe that we are here to make thoughts into things. And so we have this creative impulse, you know, I consider myself to be a creative, I talk about myself as a curator as a scholar, these kinds of things. But at the base of who I am, I am a creator and I am a manifester. You know, like, I have an idea, I usually get a community of ideas around me, a collaboration. I rarely create things on my own. And with that group, with that collaborative entity, we bring things into being. And I think that's really primarily why I do what I do. Because it was not just the studying of things, living and inanimate, if you will. But it was really the studying of energy and how it affects us. The energy of these things and then of course, that definitely led me to ritual objects, you know, which is what I focus a lot of my emphasis on, is not only how objects are used their everyday use, which is also very interesting to me as well. But ritual objects, objects that are actually meant to create a feeling of the numinous or the holy or the spiritual. I'm a big fan of Corleone, I really feel that our psychological healing is really based on our connection to, you know, the numinous so our connection to something that feels spiritual or holy to us. And I really think also, too, that that was evident if we look at what we consider to be the artistic expressions of early humans, you know, there's a huge theory that these artistic expressions were really about manifestation either of food, you know, like, let's put these deer on the walls or let's put these mammoths on the walls. And let's manifest them into being because this is what we need. And then accompany that with ritual. And I think you've got it. If you can really understand that for even contemporary art. I've written about contemporary art in that way. You know that it is about manifestation and ritual and healing.

 

Jennifer Berglund

It's also about storytelling, right?

 

Sarah Clunis

Absolutely, storytelling is everything. And especially I think, you know, I've focused it in my own particular life on telling the stories of people of African descent and of African history, you know, and retelling those stories. And, and part of the reason for that is because we long for those stories and the histories that they tell us. You know, my mother's family, you know, exiled, also displaced, for sure. But at the same time, they're able to trace their history pretty far back, centuries and centuries. And when I speak to some of my African friends, they also are able to do that, you know, if they're Edo or they're Igbo or they're Akan, they can say, you know, I come from this long line of Osei Bonsu. And then they can tell you the story that goes along with that, because it is particularly important, I think it's important for all people, but in terms of African traditions, honoring one's ancestors, and recognizing the achievements of one's ancestors is integral to a good life, to a positive life, to a psychologically healthy life. Now, if you come from a culture that is like that, and this is true across the continent, and then you, you know, are taken forcibly from that, and transported across the waters to a completely different world in which you're separated from people that speak the same language as you, you're separated from your ritual culture, you're separated from your ancestors. And then you don't get to have the same kinds of burial traditions, which are integral to honoring the ancestors and continuing life, you're going to have great trauma. Great, great trauma, there's nothing about that experience that can really help you or heal you, other than being able to tell your story. And in telling your story, finding other people that can tell their story, as well, and making a connection to who you are, and who your ancestors were. Right? Like, I can't tell you for sure, if I was Igbo, or Yoruba, or Kalabari, am I Akan, am I Fanti, Ashanti? I know, I have some information about that. And I know that's true for people of European descent, who are immigrants as well. But I think that, you know, the trauma of the slave trade, and slavery in general. And then to think about the continued rupture of families, you know, people were bred as though they were cattle in slavery. And, you know, you could have a baby, a child, and that child could be taken from you and sold to someone else. You could have a partner, you know, be in a pair bonded relationship with someone, and your partner could be taken from you like tomorrow, and then you never get to see them. And we have stories, this is where the storytelling comes in. We know that these things happen, because we have the stories. And sometimes one of the most powerful way to tell the stories is through the object. You know, we can look at now, the way in which hair is braided. And we are just now realizing that a lot of times, maps were braided into cornrows of people's hair, so that the hair itself showed like a map, a way to travel. So because of the secrecy, we can look at things like the mapping in someone's hairstyle, the particular drum rhythms that would communicate specific messages from one plantation to another. These are the ways that our African ancestors communicated with each other, because they had to do it in secrecy. And this is these are the ways in which they escaped slavery, really, to me that is magical. It shows that the human spirit and the human desire to be free will always trump everything else. Yeah, you know, you can imagine and I will tell you that even last night, I was talking my kids about something and they ask a lot of questions about slavery and things like that. But it brought me to the point in my head where I thought to myself, what would it have been like. If I had been enslaved I had the opportunity to flee it, I would have had to decide whether or not it was to stay within the safety of where I was, or to flee into unknown world also, right like what kind of decision making did one have to go through to run? So I often sometimes think about those things so I can I can tell the stories.

 

Jennifer Berglund

I also think It's really interesting with you. I mean, you were talking before about how your mother has this long family history in Jamaica. And you know, with a very close, close family that's tracked their history for just this incredibly long period of time. I mean, I think about my family history and my great grandparents were all immigrants. And I don't know anything beyond that. Very different from an enslaved persons history in the United States.

 

Sarah Clunis

Yes but important all the same.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yes. Yeah.

 

Sarah Clunis

Connecting with history, it's essential, I think, for one's psychological health.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah. To that point, my impression that I'm getting from you is that you are sort of searching for your identity more on your father's side because you already know so much about your mother's family history. But part of your scholarship, your intellectual journey, is a very personal journey for you to sort of understand where particularly your father side came from.

 

Sarah Clunis

Absolutely. Because i'm so racially ambiguous as well. And so that becomes an has always been this very interesting thing for me to be in the world and not be easily erased, you know, because this world really demands that they know from you what race you are in order to treat you a certain way or speak to you a certain way. And that's changing. But my entire life has been being this invisible person, in the sense that I would often be in rooms, and people just didn't know I was black, right. And so I would overhear conversations, or people would say something to me that maybe they wouldn't say in front of black people. And so I was constantly privy to this kind of racism, that people who are more visibly black, didn't experience yet, they would experience a kind of oppressive racism that I would not experience. Like, the racism that my father would experience was based on people treating him a certain way because they were aware and could see his blackness. Whereas I would escape that, I would have that privilege, if you will, of not having people treat me that way. However, I would be in a room often, and hear the things that would maybe go on behind the scenes, and that in and of itself, felt violent, in a way too you know. And then I was always in the situation where I always have to come out as a black person. Like, the situations where I have to say, well, I really need you to know. And I think that you don't have to be black to say, I don't like that comment. I feel like the comments offensive, or hurtful, painful, or I don't agree with it. But there was a lot of negotiating feelings of shame that I think people who are either immigrants or of African descent or just not white in general, or maybe not Judeo Christian culture, or whatever the case may be like, there are moments where you hear things and when you're younger, you don't have that kind of like, Oh, I'm great. You know what I mean? Like, I don't care what you say, you just feel like curling up into a little ball and being like, why? You know, why is my difference so abject to you? Like, why am I created as an abject person in your eyes? So I think that my body, the body that I was given, this kind of racially ambiguous body, you know, I've been in places where there are a lot of Jewish people, and they say something racist, or I'm in a place where there's a lot of black people, and they say something anti semitic. So I have to say, it's not like, I don't feel like there's a place for me. That's totally not true. I have community. But I do think that my life has been constantly about negotiating those issues, which has brought me to this, this amazing place in which I can be a leader in understanding these kinds of issues, you know, so I feel rewarded for I think all of the trauma caused by all of those conversations and that lived experience.

 

Jennifer Berglund

When would you say you first became aware of this ambiguous-

 

Sarah Clunis

Oh, I know exactly.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Tell me.

 

Sarah Clunis

We had moved to Florida for a couple years because of the political situation in Jamaica in the 70s. It was very, very dangerous to be there.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And how old were you?

 

Sarah Clunis

I was about five. And we had relocated. We lived in Florida for about two years, until the situation calmed down. It was safe to return back to Jamaica. It's an immigrant story that you hear over and over again. But I was at the doctor's office with my mother, and she was filling out a form. And I was looking because like I said I was very curious. I was reading from I was about three years old, and I was reading every single thing that she was doing, and then she got to It's something that I've never experienced before. I had never seen it. You can guess what it is right? The please circle one.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Oh, yes.

 

Sarah Clunis

I had never experienced that before.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah, the please circle your race. You know black, white, hispanic? Yes.

 

Sarah Clunis

So I saw my mom hesitate. And I was looking at all of the options, and there was no option for me. Now I've been in the United States long enough so that I circle African American, I circle white, I circle Asian, because now I get to circle more than one so I circle all the ones that I am, you know. But at this particular instance, it was a 70s was pleased circle one and there was nothing for me and my mother wrote other. And I questioned her about that. And I remember it like so vividly. Like it happened yesterday, I remember the room that I was in, I remember were seated next to her, I remember what the page look like. Those are the kinds of things, and this is a thing, it's an object, that that tells a story in and of itself, right? This object holds a certain kind of effective presence and the presence in this object is one of pain. Right? It's it's one of discovering that this particular context that you find yourself in, doesn't have a place for you. They've never imagined you. So it was at that moment that I recognized that I was like, Oh, they don't know about me. I'm an alien to these people. So I have to tell the alien story.

 

Jennifer Berglund

God at five years old, you know?

 

Sarah Clunis

Yeah, I feel very much like, I've been on this trajectory from the beginning. I was a very deep spiritual child. And I often thought about the world that I lived in, because, like I said, I looked around in Jamaica, I saw that it really was a post slavery environment that I was living in. And there was still the resonance of that. And I wasn't comfortable. I really wasn't comfortable with that. So I wanted to learn more about it. I wanted to learn more about who I was, and find my ancestors, and find my history. And the result of that was that I'm now in a position to tell those stories for other people as well.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So in this month of February, we are in Black History Month. To you as a person of the African diaspora, what does that mean for you?

 

Sarah Clunis

You know, my whole entire life is Black History Month, right? Like, yeah, I mean, and I set it up that way, right. So that I would always deal with issues like this. But I think I mean, most cultures are based on this concept of holidays. Really, if you look back to it, and this is going really deep, but we are all based on this kind of agricultural cycle, you know, where even if we celebrate a holiday, because we say it's a Christian holiday, if you look really deeply into it, you'll see that it was something that ancient humans also celebrated. You know, we have springtime, we have Solstice, summer solstice, we have fall, All Saints Day, we have winter solstice, things like that. So I think we are as human beings really, really dependent on connecting to a particular idea through a celebration of that idea. And so February has been chosen as Black History Month. And I know there are people out there, tons of people who are like we don't we shouldn't have black history month every month should be Black History Month. And if you want to do that, go for it, I do it. That's my life, every month is Black History Month. But it allows it to be one month in which we're really focused on celebrating black history. And if we can do it for Valentine's Day, and I won't get into the history of Valentine's Day, but if we can do it for Valentine's Day, I think we could do it for Black History Month. Right. And Women's History Month and and all of the other you know, Juneteenth. You know, in Jamaica, we turned Columbus Day into Emancipation Day, you know, so we kind of changed but we kept the day because we knew that we needed a day or a month. People, human beings need ritual. They need to be able to honor you know, the memory and the history of something. So for me, February is that month in which I can, you know, really show up and tell stories and talk about issues that really I'm doing all the time. But there's a more public forum for it. So I celebrate it. I'll take all of the bandwidth that I can get to be out there talking about black history and what it means to be a person of the African diaspora, a person of African descent It's special for me.

 

Jennifer Berglund

How do you see your work as a process of healing?

 

Sarah Clunis

Well, I think that I don't like to experience emotional pain. I don't think anybody does. But some of us may be more inclined, because we're empathetic, we have a sort of deeper level of empathy. And that's not to say that if you don't have a deeper level of empathy, that you're not special, because having a deeper level of empathy can actually be not so good, too if you don't handle it well. I speak to my daughter about this all the time, I'm like, you've got to sort of get a rein on this because it will allow you to be a healer and to really affect change in the world. But it can also break you if you don't get in touch with it. So I would consider myself an empath. And I would consider myself as a deeply deeply sensitive person that experiences pain, on a very deep level, the pain of others, and I don't want to live constantly being in pain. So I decided at some point that it was important for me in my life path to facilitate healing. And that all of the things that created pain in my life, and there have been many, that I could tell stories, historical stories, not my own personal stories, but historical stories that deal with that kind of pain, because maybe there have been certain things that have, I felt pain, and they've connected to me. My gender, for instance, like like the fact that I'm a woman. And there's certain things that women go through that have created certain painful experiences for them. I can talk about those things so that it can facilitate healing on a global level. So I have a global scope. My agenda is really international. It's community based, but I believe that microcosms really affect macrocosms. So I deal with what I can, on a small basis, dealing with the self is the primary thing, you have to have a strong self, you have to facilitate self healing. You have to be. If you are constantly giving, giving, giving, and you are not giving to yourself, you're going to be of no help, and no use to anybody. You know, if you want to show up and you want to be a hero, and you want to be a warrior, you have to be strong. And that's not just physically but it's emotionally. So I have a holistic approach to taking care of the self. And then I emanate that holistic approach into what I do for a career, into my family, into my community. What I'm doing at the Peabody, what I'm doing at Harvard, is facilitating healing. Whether people choose to take me up on that is really, you know, hopefully they will. But it's not really where I'm going, I am committed to facilitating healing. And part of the reason why I was attracted to the Peabody was because they were in pain, you know, because there were so many things that were being brought up. So the Peabody and museums in general are being called out about how objects were acquired, repatriation issues, human remains, the way in which people were treated, photographed, things like that. This is not just something that's particular to the Peabody. And I really love anthropology, I think the study of humankind is huge. It's very important. So I don't want to see the history of anthropology, the field of anthropology destroyed, because, really, the earliest anthropologists were just not evolved. I believe in the evolution of humankind, we are evolving all the time. And we are in a place right now where everyone is questioning, you know, even if you are in a position of privilege, and we all have positions of privilege, for whatever reason, even if you're in a position of privilege, say you have heterosexist privilege, for instance. You still won't ignore the fact that other people don't just because you have it. Now we're in a time where people are calling everybody out about things. The Peabody was a very important space for me when I was a teenager. It offered me a space where I could see, for the first time not only African objects, but hybrid objects, objects that showed the encounter between cultures. And I felt like that was somewhat my experience as well. They were exoticized, and they were encased and they were displaced. And they were not within context. And I felt oftentimes that way as well. But my curiosity of dealing with these objects really led me on a path that, you know, I said here is the object. It is almost like the womb of the story. And through this object, I can tell this object's story. And then people are going to be like, but that's also my story, you know. And when I tell a story, like when I tell a story like about the Binion bronzes, for instance, I expect it to not only affect a Edo people, or Nigerian people, or even people of the African diaspora. I expected to be a story that affects everyone because the objects have that effective presence. So healing is not just happening for people of African descent through that story. Healing is happening for all of us because in my mixed body, I understand that these kinds of situations in which people oppress other people are also oppressive and painful for the people who are the oppressors. It is dysfunctional, and it is toxic for all humanity. So my intention to the work I do is to find a way to bring healing to the human condition. It's gigantic, I know. But that's why I'm here.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Sarah Clunis, thank you so much for being here. This has been amazing.

 

Sarah Clunis

Jennie, thank you so much for having me. This has been a really, really great opportunity to, even for myself, to connect my life, to my work, to my spirit. This has been really healing for me as well. Thank you.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Today's HMSC Connects! podcast was edited by Emma Knudsen, and produced by me, Jennifer Berglund and the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. Special thanks to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and to Sarah Clunis for her wisdom and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. If you like today's podcast, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean, or wherever you get your podcasts. See in a couple of weeks!