Museums have levied epistemic violence against colonized and minority communities since their inception by representing dominant discourses and histories. Many museums house colonial collections, and/or are governmental institutions, especially in post-colonial societies. Exhibits featuring these collections have usually elided the difficult knowledge that contextualized them, especially when adhering to the project of nationalism, resulting in demands for artistic and curatorial interventions and diversity in hiring practices. Furthermore, this century has witnessed an escalation in nationalistic fervor and resistance movements around the world, as well as a dynamically debated discourse around repatriation and decolonization.
In this discussion, we address the relationship that exists between museums, the state, and the nation. The presence of statecraft within the museum has to be confronted in terms of its objects and exhibits and its representations and refusals. What is the responsibility of the museum as an anthropological institution? How does its institutional structure allow for resistance, if such a thing can be imagined or practiced within its walls? What kinds of negotiations can be facilitated by the museum and what kinds of refusals are possible? We discuss the actualities of the museum with respect to its statist features and values, as well as the potentialities for growth, death, and regeneration.
Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, Assistant Professor (Religions & Cultures), Concordia University & Research Associate, Smithsonian NMNH
Karl Johnstone (Rongowhakaata) is the Founder/Director of Haumi, a multi-disciplinary cultural and creative studio based in Auckland, New Zealand. Karl has worked across the creative sector for over 25 years as a creative director, curator, and strategist. Alongside his passion of working with iwi Māori, he has developed major cultural diplomacy initiatives, cultural centres, exhibitions and experiences. A graduate of the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, (majoring in painting), Karl has worked at New Zealand’s National Museum (‘Te Papa’) and was the director of the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute.
Wayne Modest is Director of Content of the National Museum of World Culture (a museum group comprising the Tropenmuseum, Museum Volkenkunde, Africa Museum) and the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He is also professor (by special appointment) of material culture and critical heritage studies at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. A cultural studies scholar by training, Modest works at the intersection of material culture, memory and heritage studies, with a strong focus on colonialism and its afterlives in Europe and the Caribbean.