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Name: Ceciel Brouwer

PhD: Museum Studies

Thesis Title: Ethics and Consent: Considering Artistic Photographs of Children in the UK Art Museum and Gallery

Supervisors and Institution(s): Dr. Janet Marstine, University of Leicester, Prof. Richard Sandell, University of Leicester

Thesis Description
My research considers how museums in the UK can effectively negotiate the ethical and human rights issues involved in collecting and displaying contemporary photographs of children that are sensitive in light of the heightened sensitivity towards the protection of children. My overarching goal is to advance ethically-informed discourse and decision-making amongst museums and galleries to consider their responsibilities towards both underage subjects of photographs and freedom of speech. 

Collecting, interpreting and displaying contemporary photographs depicting childhood or adolescence has become increasingly slippery territory for art museums and galleries, in particular when the photograph depicts a child expressing a bodily awareness. In a small number of well-known cases artistic photographs were taken off display. These cases have given rise to a debate on censorship and the fundamental right to free and full creative expression. Opposing voices point out that taking, exhibiting and distributing photographs of children might conflict with the needs, interests and children’s rights of the sitter.

It is surprising that the issues arising from these debates have rarely been addressed more profoundly - the considerations involved in the decision-making process of museums negotiating these photographs remain invisible and largely unmapped. Through two case studies and interviews with practitioners at the forefront of photography and museum practice, my thesis reframes debates on artistic photographs, children's rights, freedom of speech and self-censorship. It uncovers censorship and its often underestimated sibling self-censorship as a much more endemic phenomenon – one that is self-reinforcing and prevents more profound engagement with the bigger ethical questions bound up in these photographs. With a generation of museums being increasingly committed and receptive to human rights issues, the research explores institutional strategies that negotiate censoring pressures, aid visitors’ meaningful engagement and grant children’s voices agency. 

Research Opportunities

In 2015 and 2016 I undertook M3C funded research in the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to find out how institutions find ways to negotiate these challenging photographs - why are some photographs kept in storage or never even taken into the collection? Why are others put on display and how do museums help visitors make meaning of them? What narratives might be a helpful way of supporting audiences in addressing the more difficult these photographs touch on? And how do institutions negotiate the ethical decision making process? M3C's support means I gained access to pioneering institutions and professionals.

Currently, I am undertaking a placement at Tate Modern's photography team - an opportunity that has arisen from my research and will both aid in my professional development and impact the thesis. I support the development of an exhibition, and apart from undertaking curatorial research, I will develop an ethical strategy to help create an exhibition plan. 

Academic/career achievements

I started my career in museums and galleries in the Netherlands, at Pulchri Studio, an art-society and artist-run gallery located in the centre of The Hague. I supported the Art Gallery and the 50 expositions a year by working with the many artists in organising exhibitions and public engagement programmes that reached out to the diverse communities of the city of The Hague. Prior to that, I gained experience at the Museumgroup, Leiden, a collaborative organisation supporting the city of Leiden's 7 museums and HOOP, a platform for young artists and musicians.

During the MA Museum Studies I came to understand truly collaborative museum practice at Hackney Museum in London. Working on Black History Season I supported two local guest-curators in consulting Hackney's community and building an exhibition shaped by local stories of migration, entrepreneurship and family. At Hackney Museum I saw how sound research and innovative practice can transform museums and the way they are used by audiences - the institution was one of seven pioneering museums explored in Bernadette Lynch's report 'Whose Cake Is It Anyway' on museums and engagement. This motivated me to continue working in museums and research and ultimately pursue a PhD.  

2016 - 2017: Diversity and Equality Working Group, School of Museum Studies

  2016 - 2017: Project Researcher Equality Challenge Unit: Increasing diversity in Museum Studies, University of Leicester: recruiting students from underrepresented groups

2014 - 2017: Teaching Assistant School of Museum Studies, University if Leicester

2016:            Talk on Museum Ethics / Photography Ethics, Centre for Museology Brno, Czech Republic

2015 - 2016: Curator Joe Orton: Warning Content Uncensored, University of Leicester Library

2015 - 2016: Editor in Chief, Museological Review, Issue 20, University of Leicester

2015 - 2016: Mentor, Realising Opportunities Programme, University of Leicester

2015:            Educator Black History Month, University of Leicester

2014 - 2015: Student Representative, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester


Brouwer, C. (2016) Editor-in-Chief. Museological Review Issue 20, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester.

 Brouwer, C. (2015) 'Between Art and Exploitation' in Index on Censorship

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