Contemporary Presents: The Canadian War Museum's Afghanistan—A Glimpse of War and the Unfinished Business of Representation

Randy Innes


As an exhibition organized and presented by a national cultural institution whose mandate is to educate the public on the reasons, reactions, mechanisms and impacts of war, Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War at the Canadian War Museum had the opportunity to address the conflict that has shaped contemporary Afghanistan and the nature of the current war in which Canada is an active participant. As such, the appearance and effect of this exhibition must be evaluated not only in terms of its place in relation to historical and archival records, but also in terms of the knowledge and perceptions it generated in the present. I attend to the choice of objects and to the narrative they introduce, and question the institutional claim to an apolitical and elliptical exhibition strategy. While a museum exhibition can never bring the totality of the subject to which its artifacts and objects refer into the space of representation, it is nonetheless the cumulative result of a set of decisions, practices and strategies that are directed towards a specific end. I investigate the effects that the idea of "contemporary history" had on the exhibition as a whole, and ask whether the subject of the exhibition would have been better addressed as a contemporary present.

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