Global Museum exhibit focuses on indigenous communities

MJ Johnson

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Hygrocybe noelokelani or “the pink rose in the mist” is a species of fungi found in the high elevation wet cloud forests of Maui. These pink little mushrooms are being threatened by climate change. 

Professor of mycology Dennis Desjardin has dedicated his life to documenting disappearing fungi species in Hawaii. He worked with local elders to name newly discovered species in the Hawaiian language. He has discovered over 49 new species so far. 

His work is part of “Climate Stories,” a new exhibit that opened Oct. 1 at the Global Museum, an on-campus exhibition gallery in the Fine Arts building.

The exhibit showcases the impacts of climate change on indigenous communities around the world and highlights the efforts of activists globally, including those at SF State, fighting for climate action. Only the second exhibit at the Global Museum, established in 2018, “Climate Stories” began as a collaborative effort between educators, designers and graduate students within the Museum Studies program, Museum Director Paige Bardolph said. 

“SF State is a great place to have an exhibit like this,”  Bardolph said. “We’re such a social justice oriented campus and its good for university students to be part of this conversation which is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

The exhibit includes artifacts from the university’s collection and objects on loan from the California Academy of Sciences. Cultural artifacts from indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea — the first place to order mandatory relocation from rising sea levels in 2015 — the Amazon and Australia speckle the pathway of the museum. Each artifact, like a colorful headdress or bone carving, tells the troubling story of communities on the brink of extinction. 

“I’m excited to see the Global Museum is tackling this in a way that is people focused,” said Kathryn Papoulias, a graduate student who helped to set up the exhibit.  


Museum Studies graduate students Kathryn Papoulias and Tiana Raihn share a laugh at the Global Museum exhibit opening of “Climate Stories” Oct. 1. (Photo by MJ Johnson / Golden Gate Xpress
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Since the beginning of spring semester, graduate students have been producing the design and executed the creation of the exhibit down to the smallest labels. Now that the exhibit is open to the public, the students will develop tours and answer questions to anyone visiting the museum. The museum can also be booked for facilitated tours by classes on anthropology, art, ethnic studies, and even for k-12 classes. 

“Museums are unique places because they provide an alternate venue for learning,” Papoulias said. “Whether you’re from a background in history, art, science or social science there is a museum for everyone.” 

The climate change theme for “Climate Stories” was one that Director of Museum Studies and chief curator Edward Luby said he felt passionately about. Luby said the Global Museum produced the exhibit to start a conversation on the issue within the museum community. 

“It is the essential issue of our times,” Luby said, “Especially for these often overlooked indigenous communities who are on the frontlines and are disproportionately affected by human induced climate change.” 

The Global Museum partnered with various campus departments to create installations that are interactive and relevant to the campus community. Notably, the section on wildlife and plants features the work and research of Professor Dennis Desjardin of the Biology Department’s Herbarium. Desjardin’s photographs documenting fungi threatened by climate change in Hawaii are displayed against the ocean blue backdrop of the exhibit. 

The Story Lounge, an area where visitors can sit and read from storybooks related to climate change, and the Magic Table Display, a Google Earth projection on a rotating table, are two displays that require visitor participation. The final section of the exhibit features cardboard signs from the recent climate justice rally on campus, organized by students from the College of Ethnic Studies. The rally focused on themes like environmental racism and colonization as related to climate change.

“Even though its in a small space, the exhibit moves through the global effects on other continents and back to our own backyard,” said Aya Yamamoto, an exhibit visitor. “It goes full circle and shows solidarity for those indeginous communities being impacted.” 

The Global Museum is open to the public Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The “Climate Stories” exhibit will run until May 2020.