Subhadra Das, curator of science and medicine, UCL Culture

Announcing the 2019 MA conference host

Yosola Olorunshola, 23.05.2019
Comedian and curator Subhadra Das will host this year's event
 We are excited to announce that Subhadra Das, historian and curator at UCL Culture, will host this year’s Museums Association (MA) conference and exhibition in Brighton on 3-5 October. 

Das, who will open and close the conference each day and introduce keynote speakers, is a curator of science and medicine – as well as a writer and comedian.

She is the recipient of a Headley Fellowship, launched by the Headley Trust and Art Fund to enable curators to develop specialist knowledge related to their collections. One of seven inaugural fellows, Das is currently researching the history of science collections.

In her current role, Das set up the UCL Pathology Collections in a new museum space and has brought UCL’s Galton Collection to a wider range of audiences beyond social and historical sciences.

In 2009 she co-curated Disposal?, a consultative exhibition on UCL museums and collections, which asked the audience to comment on what should stay in the collections – and what needed to go. 

Her interests include the history of scientific racism, engaging non-specialists with social and historical science and the role of humour in interpreting collections. 

Subhadra article

We spoke to Das to hear her thoughts on the evolving role of museums today. 

What are you excited about in the run-up to this year’s conference?  

Hosting it! As may be the case with a lot of people, a conference is not my natural habitat – I’m often uncertain about what I’m supposed to be contributing and how. That couldn’t be clearer this time around, and I’m hugely excited about carrying on some of the excellent conversations from last year’s conference about diversity and dissent with a wider view for the future in mind.

What does an ethical museum look like to you?

Less like a theme park, more like a library: open to all, a space for community and collaborative knowledge-making. 

What do curators and comedians have in common? 

I was going to say “Absolutely nothing”, but that’s unfair. One of my comedy mentors says what makes a good comedian is trust – they get up on stage, they are responsive to and considerate of their audience and in turn the audience trusts them and laughs. Good curators – good museum professionals in general, really – should be as considerate to our audiences. 

Can you tell us about a highlight in your career so far? 

When I became curator of UCL’s Pathology Collections, my only medical knowledge was the lost promise of someone who would have been a 4th generation doctor. Last year I spent months writing a Principles of Pathology booklet and working to ensure every single one of 2,000 specimens on display in the Pathology Museum had a technical, medical label. It’s the one thing my mother, who is an actual doctor, understands about my work in museums, and that is hugely satisfying. 

Book your tickets to the Museums Association's 2019 conference on Sustainable and Ethical Museums in a Globalised World.