A curator from the British Museum has claimed they “have to be careful about using too many” Asian names on exhibit labels, as they can be confusing to teenagers.
The museum was taking part in #AskACurator on Twitter, in which staff at museums around the world answer questions.
Responding to a tweet from the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney asking “How do you go about designing exhibition labels and information that are accessible to a wider range of people?”, the British Museum’s official account answered: “Curators write the labels based on their specialist knowledge and they are edited by our Interpretation department. We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.”
The tweets, which appear to have been written by the keeper of the Asia department, led to an angry response from other Twitter users:
The museum attempted to clarify the comments, saying: “We are limited by the length of labels. Dynasties & gods have different names in various Asian languages. We want to focus on the stories.” It gave the example that “the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy is known as Avalokitesvara in India, Guanyin in China, Kwanum in Korea and Kannon in Japan.”
This was not seen as a satisfactory answer by some:
But others defended the museum’s approach:
People who have worked on producing information text for museums joined in to give further insight into the process:
After the statements had begun to be viewed as controversial, the museum issued a further clarification on its Twitter account: