In Memory of Maria Fernanda Esteban Palma

Written by Claire Messenger, Manager, International Training Programme.

This week we learnt that we had lost a valued and loved member of our International Training Programme (ITP) team, the wonderful Maria Fernanda Esteban Palma.  Maria, former Project Curator, Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research, joined us as part of the ITP Summer Programme in 2019 as the representative of the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.  She also acted as mentor for 2019 cohort Object in focus projects where she guided fellows through their exhibition proposal project.

Maria planned her departmental time with care and consideration as she wanted to give as wide an experience of the British Museum and its collections as possible.  The programme included short tours of the galleries while focusing on community engagement, gallery design and current projects.  She also arranged for the group to spend time behind the scenes in storage areas for hands-on activities focusing on object handling, object care and curatorial decisions for object documentation purposes. For these activities, she focussed on objects from the fellows’ countries and related them to the material they work with at their museums.

Maria also took the AOA Fellows to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, which focused on contemporary approaches to the display of African material culture, with the objective of encouraging her colleague’s participation in a discussion about the future of ethnographic gallery curation and whether a solution could be found within the field of arts curation.

She gave great thought and consideration to her programme, making sure that it worked for all the Fellows and was a platform for further engage and potential future collaboration with staff across the Museum, and beyond the ITP summer programme.  She was determined to follow a fellow-led approach to the time in AOA and reported that she found the whole ITP experience very enriching and wanted to continue exploring creative and more productive ways of engaging with the fellow’s post-programme.

Working with ITP Fellows from Egypt & Sri Lanka and Turkey & China, Maria mentored colleagues through the Object in focus project and with teamwork and collaboration, they produced two creative and thoughtful exhibition displays.

Spiritual Journey based on a Poporo, a ceremonial container created by the Kogi People, Colombia.

Nagwa Bakr, Community Engagement Officer, Ministry of Antiquities and and Sanjeewani Widyarathne, Education Promoting Officer, Colombo National Museum

The Journey of the Zande Pot focussed on a pottery water vessel from the Zande people in South Sudan.

Asuman Alpagut Asuman Alpagut, Museum Researcher, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations & Anthropologist and Ye Ye, Curator Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum

Maria was delighted to be part of the ITP family and work with colleagues around the world.  Planning the programme for their AOA Fellows and Object in focus mentees, she was keen to provide time and space for interaction and collaboration – ensuring that the ITP was a truly skill and knowledge sharing experience.

Maria was wonderful to work with on the ITP Summer Programme.  She was enthusiastic and dynamic, kind and thoughtful – nothing was too much trouble for her.  She shared her considerable skills and knowledge with energy and excitement, and happily took part in our ITP social events giving her time to all the Fellows 2019.  I will always remember her vivacity and laughter – which we heard a lot – and her determination to give all she could to the ITP.  Maria will be greatly missed by the ITP team and members of our global network and our thoughts go out to her family and friends at this very difficult time.