Our statement on Decolonisation
We unreservedly support initiatives to decolonise museums and their collections.
Decolonisation is not simply the relocation of a statue or an object; it is a long-term process that seeks to recognise the integral role of empire in British museums – from their creation to the present day. Decolonisation requires a reappraisal of our institutions and their history and an effort to address colonial structures and approaches to all areas of museum work.
This work has already started. Over the past decades museums have begun to recognise the trauma and suffering caused by the display and representation of objects that were obtained during or made as a result of the British Empire.
Many museum people have worked with consultants and volunteers in the UK and internationally to re-examine collections and explore the different stories they can tell. This vital work allows museums to provide additional information and context to the items they hold; to enter into meaningful dialogue with source communities and those in the diaspora relevant to these collections; and, in some cases, to explore options for restitution. Museums have also recognised the need for structural change, through a more diverse workforce and leadership. While some progress has been made on this front, there is still much to do.
We consider decolonising work to be ethically the right thing to do. Last year we established a Decolonisation Guidance Working Group at the request of our Ethics Committee. This was in response to recommendations in our Empowering Collections report. The publication recommended that: “Sector support organisations, the MA Ethics Committee and museums should work together to establish new guidance for the sector and ensure that museums take a proactive approach in the reinterpretation and decolonising of collections.”
We recognise the lack of support and guidance for museums undertaking work to decolonise their collections and practice and seek to bridge the current gap between theory and practice in this area.
We will continue this work and we will carry on supporting those that are striving to create an open and honest appraisal of the origin and meaning of our collections and buildings.