Q&A | 'This exhibition challenges the Eurocentric notion of psychoanalysis' - Museums Association

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Q&A | ‘This exhibition challenges the Eurocentric notion of psychoanalysis’

Museums Journal gets on the couch with curator Jamie Ruers to dig deeper into an exhibition on Freud and Latin America
Exhibitions Mental Health
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The curator reads and of Freud's books on a replica of his couch
Jamie Ruers, the curator of Freud and Latin America Image courtesy Freud Museum

A new exhibition at the Freud Museum in London explores the connections between Sigmund Freud and Latin America.

The Peruvian artefacts and Spanish texts that Freud collected for his research are on display beside his correspondence with the psychologists who developed his ideas in Latin America.

Dream analysis columns in 1940s Argentine women’s magazines and photography inspired by psychoanalysis demonstrate the impact that Freud’s work had on people beyond the elite circles of European scholars.

Museums Journal caught up with curator Jamie Ruers to delve into how the exhibition came to be - and how Freud himself likened psychoanalysis to archaeology.

A contemporary painting of Freud's couch
Divan: Free Floating Attention Piece by Santiago Borja (2010) Image courtesy Freud Museum

Why was it important to create this exhibition?

A third of our visitors come from Latin America, mostly from Brazil and Argentina. My hope is that they see that we also want to celebrate them and their cultural relationship to Freud, and that there are pieces that Freud had in his collection that resonate with them as well.

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So I started to dig into the collection and actually found that there was quite a lot of material, particularly books, that I thought would be the grounds for a wonderful show. 

What are the highlights? 

One of the star objects is a vessel from Peru. We believe it was gifted to Freud by his Peruvian follower, Honorio Delgado. This is a 1,600-year-old object, and it would have probably been buried with someone of high ranking in Peru. But in the 19th century, a lot of these graves and tombs were looted and the objects were then sold off to dealers. 

We also have two contemporary artworks on display, one from Brazil and one from Mexico, depicting images of psychoanalysis. The one from Mexico is an artist's interpretation of the museum some years ago, which is breath-taking. And the pieces from Brazil show a traditional woodblock printing method. It’s a marriage between the traditional and the modern.

A woman holds an ancient vessel shaped like a person
Freud owned a 1600 year old Peruvian funerary vessel Image courtesy Freud Museum

What do the objects Freud collected teach us about him? 

Freud actually likened psychoanalysis much closer to archaeology than to psychology. He saw it as a process of slowly digging away from the surface to get to the treasures that lie underneath.

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So he actually didn't have very many books around psychology or human behaviour, but he had hundreds of books on archaeology. The key thing to take away from Freud's collection is that he saw these civilisations as things to tell us something about ourselves.

What impact do you hope the exhibition will have?

A 1963 Mexican comic book depicts the life of Freud Image courtesy of the Freud Museum

I think it's important to look at psychoanalysis and Freud outside of this European bubble. When you think about psychoanalysis, or therapy as a practice, your main thoughts are of Paris, Vienna, London and New York. 

But actually, it isn’t just in those cities. Buenos Aires has a higher number of psychoanalysts per capita than anywhere else in the world. Sao Paulo has a very warm culture towards receiving therapy.

This exhibition is challenging that Eurocentric notion of psychoanalysis.

Freud and Latin America is open now and runs until 14 July 2024

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