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Please Touch Gently: Shaking the Crown Bone

Do Not Touch. A rule so clear, yet so tempting to break. Admit it, we’ve all done it. We’ve all touched an object in a museum when we thought no one was watching. The variety of textures found in MOA’s displays—the sumptuous fabrics, sleek soapstone and jagged carvings—can tease visitors with strong haptic tendencies. For those who are especially tactile, visiting the museum can turn into an exercise of restraint. If you fall into this category, there is hope: MOA is home to five objects we want you to touch!

“Visitors are faced with a conflict of information,” notes Senior Conservator Heidi Swierenga on the challenges that come with allowing visitors to touch a limited collection of objects. She explains that one of the main issues with this type of accessibility is ensuring that the select pieces are engaged with respectfully. Exposing works to public hands increases the likelihood of damage, but the importance of touch as a learning device is undeniable. “The value that you can get from having people interact with objects outweighs the risk,” Heidi says, adding that touch helps facilitate new understandings of cultural objects. So the next time you are at MOA and feel the urge to reach across a barrier and touch an object that’s off limits, turn to this one instead.

Shaking the Crown Bone, by Eric Robertson

MOA collection Nb7.346 a-b. Photo by Jessica Bushey.

When asked to make a new work for MOA, Gitxsan artist Eric Robertson sought to create something that linked all of the coastal nations. His clever re-interpretation of the Indigenous game of lahal, otherwise known as the “bone game,” was created with the intention of allowing visitors to physically engage with the work. The piece is comprised of two giant lahal sticks, one of which includes a copper band around its centre etched with the Royal Proclamation of 1763—a document considered to be the foundation of the modern treaty. As Robertson addresses in his artist statement, while the Royal Proclamation was issued over 200 years ago “the content and application of this document are still being discussed.” By combining the bone game with this historic political document, Robertson frames Indigenous sovereignty as a game that has yet to be won. If you’re passing the Multiversity Galleries, make sure to give Robertson’s gentle piece a spin or soft low-five.