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Virtual 2021

Keynote Speech

A Conservation Paradox: Preservation as Patriarchy?

Cybele Tom

Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago, USA and Assistant Conservator of Objects, Art Institute of Chicago, USA


Fine art constitutes only a fraction of the things that conservation cares for. Clothes, flags, shrines, objects of entertainment and play, architecture, and sites are all part of its domain, from the functional to the symbolic, the industrial and mundane, to the sacred and esoteric. And not only physical things, but ideas and concepts, events and practices also require a kind of preservation. In a field where everything is a candidate for its care, what qualifies as “outside influences” anyway? And why is it useful to think about them?

This presentation first considers and circumscribes the defining principles and values of modern western conservation in order to specify that which lies outside of it. From there, I specifically probe two contentious boundaries of conservation: how it should approach alternate values, that is, ethical codes and methods different from its own; and, how it should engage, if at all, socio political issues outside its professional remit. Both questions come to a head in instances of strong outcry against public monuments commemorating historical figures or events considered important to a local group narrative or identity—e.g., monuments to the Confederacy, Christopher Columbus, etc.—while, on the other hand, seen as symbols perpetuating colonial, racist, patriarchal narratives and structures. These scenarios appear to manifest a conservation paradox, where the central aim—the preservation of cultural heritage—clashes with one or more core values of the profession. The practice of preservation, typically carried out with pride and confidence, suddenly takes on unintended and unwanted meanings.

Where should conservation stand; how should it act? At a time of extreme politicization, wouldn’t it be prudent and professional for conservators to stay out of the fray? How does the field become an ally and force for positive change? Taking cues from art history, philosophy, linguistics, identity theory, conservation theory, and contemporary art practice, this presentation explores answers to these questions and seeks resolution to the paradox. In the discussion, I rove widely between museum collections, public art and community life, inviting conservators to interrogate what it means to do conservation. If we expand our notion of what we treat and care for, perhaps we’ll find new ways of being relevant.


Text-ile: The personal is political

Restauradoras con Glitter

Restauradoras con Glitter is a Mexican, feminist, independent, and nonpartisan collective of women specialists from different disciplines who are actively dedicated to the conservation and study of cultural heritage. Our starting point is an empathic and plural concept of cultural heritage, grounded in the acknowledgement of its elements: tangible artifacts, their creators-users, and the dynamic relationships established between them, which provide cultural objects with meanings that manifest in multiple ways.

We strive, through our actions in the cultural sector, for the restoration of the social fabric and the integration of a gender perspective within it, with the ultimate goal of guaranteeing human rights for women.


Is there a connection between graffiti and textiles? Can we connect the graffiti that was written on the iconic monument, Victoria Alada, during the Women’s March in Mexico City on August 16th, 2019, to this particular conference on textile conservation?

First, a premise: graffiti is text. Text and textile are similar words because they share the same etymological root: TEXERE. Textus- passive participle of texere. Textile comes from textilis, derived from the same word: texere, to weave. This connection is far from futile. Graffiti and the making of textiles are both means of communication; both have been used by feminists to shout into public spaces because “the personal is political.”

Artisanal textile fabrication and its decoration have traditionally been seen as a mark of gender. These activities have been primarily related to the female sphere, relegated to domestic spaces in preindustrial societies and the modern world. However, during the 1970s, feminists reclaimed the making of textiles as an art form and as a medium of protest against traditional gender roles. Making textiles by hand, as a community working together, lends itself naturally to talk and engagement with one another. Once again, the personal is political.

On the other hand, we have graffiti, also created in the public realm and in this case in the very public space of the Victoria Alada. The graffiti inscribed on this monument reflect and reclaim the awful reality in which Mexican women live: the horror of gender violence further worsened by the negligence and complicity by authorities at all levels. Women, again, reclaimed the public space making visible a huge social and political problem; one that has no real solution to this day: the violence that many women suffer or have suffered. These actions also show us, women, that we are not alone; that those experiences are shared and recovery is possible through collectivity and love. These actions serve to knit our personal threads together into a community.

To emphasize our conviction that the personal is political, we, Restauradoras con Glitter, a group of professional conservators, decided to speak out. Monuments do not need immediate treatment when compared to the extremely serious issues suffered by women; what needs urgent attention is the social fabric. We need to weave things differently in order to stop gender violence and to dignify women. This is a basic human right.

We believe that the preservation of graffiti on the Victoria Alada is a reminder that we need to change, that we need to create real, loving and empathetic connections. We are convinced that our profession is profoundly subjective, with a strong basis on the understanding of cultural heritage as an active part of our society. We routinely deal with material objects, but we ourselves are also subjects cohabiting our country and its public spaces, entitled to make political decisions, and as women professionals, we are making a statement. So, on August 16th, 2019, our public, personal, collective and political statement was: “Primero las mujeres, luego las paredes” (“First women, then walls”).

No workshops offered

No workshops offered


The definition of a profession: The tapestry conservation workshop at the Royal Tapestry Factory / Veronica Garcia Blanco

Ethical Flexibility and the Principles of Preserving Genocide Clothing / Julia Brennan, Jackie Peterson Grace

Professional Training in Preventive Conservation within the Peruvian Reality / Maria Ysabel Medina Castro

Drawing a Fine Line: The Ethical Ramifications between Replicating, Recreating or Replacing the Shattered Silk Linings on Two Callot Soeurs Dresses / Laura Garcia-Vendrenne

Challenges of Textile Conservation in Developing Countries: an Indonesian Case Study / Kristal Hale, Sandra Sarjono

The Characterization of Three Conductive Fabrics/Threads Used for Do-it-yourself (DIY) Electronic Textiles / Heather Hodge

Under Pressure: Rediscovering, Treating, and Pressure Mounting the USS Taylor National Ensign / Yoonjo Lee

Challenges and possibilities at the Rui Barbosa Historic House Museum: preservation of textile collections / Gabriela Lucio

The Effects of Textile Conservation on ‘Outside Influences’ / Christina Margariti

Needlefelting as a Solution to Loss in Textiles with Wool Yarn Fringe / Kathleen Martin

From Mexico and France - Approaches for the conservation treatment of a textile from Oaxaca / Hector Meneses, Lea Voisin

The Tillett Tapíz: A Tale of Impact and Intent / Allison McClosky

Dismantling Antiquated Practices at the Field Museum: Stakeholders and Challenges / Erin Murphy/Nicole Passerotti/ Stephanie Hornbeck

COMBining Accessories and Costumes: Reproduction of Tortoiseshell Combs for Costume Exhibits / Nhat Quyen Nguyen

Confronting Hate: Care and Display of Objects Representing the Oppressor / Emma Schmidt


Round Table Session

Diversity in Conservation / Speaker: Leslie Guy; Moderators: Caterina Florio, Hector Meneses

Publishing: Three Different Approaches / Speakers: Yadin Larochette, Gwen Spicer, Ksynia Marko; Moderator: Gretchen Guidess

Asking the Right Questions: How to Successfully Liaise with Conservation Scientists / Speakers: Jocelyn Alcantara-Garcia, Jennifer Poulin; Moderator: Joel Thompson

Sustainability in Textile Conservation / Speakers: Roxy Sperber, Suzanne Hargrove, Sarah Nunberg; Moderator: Denise Migdail

Electronic Textiles / Speakers: Heather Hodge, Lauren Osmond, Despina Papadopoulos, Barbara Layne; Moderator: Sarah Scaturro


No posters were presented

Local Committee
  • Howard Sutcliffe, Chair

  • Caterina Florio

  • Christine Giuntini

  • Gretchen Guidess

  • Amanda Holden

  • Iliana López Salado

  • Hector Manuel Meneses Lozano

  • Denise Krieger Migdail

  • Elizabeth Shaeffer

  • Sarah C. Stevens

  • Joel Thompson

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