【Museums Link Asia-Pacific】Absent and Present: Analysis of the Meandering Exhibition in Taipei 228 Memorial Museum
Author: Liu Ting-Yu (Freelance writer; MA, Graduate School of Arts Management and Cultural Policy, National Taiwan University of Arts)
This article uses the meandering exhibition in Taipei 228 Memorial Museum as the subject of textual analysis. Museums shape the deceased’s viewpoints through objects and photos, seemingly attempting to summon the dead and elaborate their own deaths to the audience. The audience can start from individual narratives and reflect on the collective narrative of February 28th Incident. However, there is bound to be a limit to the viewing between these two narratives. It reminds us that more victims blank in our memory. In such unfinished and regretful context, let’s rethink the purpose of traumatic viewing.
Keywords：Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, persona, being
The background of the 228 incident
In 1945, after the end of World War II and the surrender of Japan, the ROC government began exercising jurisdiction over Taiwan. At that time, people were exultantly to anticipate a “fairy tale” in the beginning; however, it turned out to be a “nightmare” in the end. The new government had issues with serious bribery and corruption, causing inflation, destitution and intense vibe between authority and people. The last straw came on February 27, 1947; one of the protesters Chen Wen-Xi accidentally met gunfire by a clash between official investigator and the widow Lin Jiang-Mai who was suspected of selling contraband cigarettes. The crowd marched in anger and came to the Chief Executive’s office, Chen Yi, The Chief Executive of Taiwan Province, directly ordered to put down the crackdown with shooting and killing, leading to heavy casualties.
After the uprising, people occupied Taiwan Radio Station (Taipei 228 memorial museum today), and broadcasted the news to the whole island. Supported by local people, Taipei citizens established 228 Incident Settlement Committee to constantly negotiate with Chen Yi. Chen seemingly promised the agreement, but informed Chiang Kai-Shek about the incident secretly to call in agents and create chaos. The 228 Incident Settlement Committee was dismissed officially on March 8; later, Army’s 21st Division boarded from Keelung harbor and massacred Taiwanese people.
The presentation of human right museum: the silhouette of the dead against objects
The meandering exhibition on the second floor of Taipei 228 memorial museum displays several elite victims based on different groups and professionals divided into 8 categories including 228 Incident Settlement Committee, Three Principles of the People Youth League, Political Construction Association of Taiwan Province, elected representatives, the press, the law, the academic and the medical. Through the objects and words, it seems that we had known them and summon the deceased to show their death in front of the viewers. Take Wang Tian-Deng for example, we can speculate his reading habits and background through his business cards, stopwatch, Chinese classic books like Four Books and Zuo Zhuan etc. and even imagine his meticulous personality while speaking from the stopwatch he usually brought with. Besides, by viewing Lu Bing-Qin’s belonging of the clothes after shooting, cash and suicide note in the pocket, we read the blood of the 228 incident and the heavy grief when saying farewell with his wife.
Standing clothes-hangers, daily necessities, paper and pictures…etc., the museum offers you a different, personal history beyond the incident, as if the victims were standing before you and slowly telling you their own story of what they have been through. However, in addition to taking in the depression, people that are familiar with other human right museum may think: why do human right museums always choose to show these little narratives to people? How do they help us to understand the pain of those who were hurt in the 228 incident? Even more, when the deceased cannot explain their deaths, for what purpose does the museum interpret the death of others?
The reason of displaying objects: images of the victims under persona
According to Carl Jung, human collective unconscious is populated by “archetypes”, including the persona, the anima, the animus, the shadow and self. These archetypes has become a natural tendency by the repetitive appearance of knowledge system and behavior; among them, the persona means individuals create different personality and identity while interacting with others, like actor/actress wearing different masks to live up to expectation from people. In Jung’s theory, “Personality” is connected with “Mask” as a compound none, which is a metaphor of multidimensional personality and society roles and relates with the common cultural association of “Mask” in society.
Hence, we can explain the image of victims in the 228 incident with the concept of persona. The objects of the victims send out certain messages, allowing the viewers to understand the characteristics of the deceased. By placing the pictures of the victims aside, the picture acts as a “mask” and allows viewers to directly link the victim with their persona. The museum demonstrates specific personalities of the victims to make their narration; in other words, these items are selected carefully to show you the professional image of victims (such as the court dress of Wang Yu-Lin, the painting tool of Chen Cheng-Po and the stethoscope parts of Shi Jiang-Nan) or historical items to recall the scene (like the suicide notes of Guo Shou-Yi, the portrait of Wu Hong-Qi’s tragic death, the broken clothes of Lu Bing-Qin etc.) Being Dignified, decent but lifeless innocently, these are the associations created by those common items of wedding pictures, medals, watches and seal etc., which also thrives on more of the individuality of the victims. In short, the museum gets strings to hold victims and make viewers to figure out what the victims have encountered by persona; however, it’s exactly the moment that erases who they were. They all are displayed in silent and there are no differences between individuals; they do not exist in this world any more.
The most horrifying fact is that most victims died with only their name left or even nothing at all. The cause of death is vague and eliminated through time. Even though the museum tried its best to make them as lively as possible again, there is always a gap. The victims have no opportunity to express themselves in person anymore, but can only be observed through small fractions of what’s left of them in this world.
Interestingly, the museum uses individual “faces” to complete the story of each victims, but the whole presentation actually achieved a de-individuality concept. Anthropologist Maurice Bloch once mentioned that the masks reveal the identities of the individuals, which is considered the combination of personality more than symbolic form and the individual’s speech and behavior are embedded in the portrait of one. The visages of victims are associated pairly with the 228 incident, and the faces with special identities have become the icons, which are thought of naturally while talking the 228 incident and vice versa. Different from the blurred concept of the whole, the museum expounds through the uniqueness of faces revealing the identities covering every field, family and the group relatively. Therefore, we now can get the idea that the museum has to use this seemingly incompatible way which makes a unity with identical individuals, spreading out the silence with sounds, and indicate the invisible with multiple scenes. It doesn’t just simply resemble a situation with two sides to the story, but allows the audience to continuously think about the meaning and significance of the 228 incident after seeing the exhibition.
The reason to look at the scars: awaken the duty of being
Heidegger said “The truth is always hidden under a veil”, the cognition is moving around between the veiled and the unveiled, making a basic cycle of recognition. “Recognition" is a way of being, the “existentiale” mentioned by Heidegger, allowing viewers thinking the relationship of death and existence after watching the display in this case.
When people intend to go through history, they will find out that it is impossible to get the full story by the items in the museum alone. Even if we had lived in those times, it would be difficult for one individual to know about every incident that happened in other areas and the feeling others had been through. This also reminds us that there are more victims that have no chance to tell their stories in the museum and has just disappeared quietly from this world. Also, we only have access to partial information of the victims via their words, videos and items, leaving the whole picture unfinished and with regretful emotions. The purpose of walking into the human right museum is to be conscious of the value of your own existence and to introspect by the anxiety for being ignorant about death of others. From this point of view, the museum has successfully connected the living and the dead; the viewers cannot neglect the pain anymore. They are US and We are Them as a whole.
- Memorial Foundation of 228
- Pollock, Donald. Masks and the Semiotics of Identity. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1（3）, 581-597.