Voxpop: What next for decolonisation?
Last year saw the issue of decolonisation increase in visibility as pressure grew on museums to address the colonial legacies of their institutions. Initiatives include the Museums Association (MA) Ethics Committee launching a working group to produce practical guidance on decolonisation. And the issue will be among the subjects being tackled at the forthcoming MA Future of Museums: Curation conference on 25 March at the Wellcome Collection, London
Errol Francis, artistic director and CEO, Culture&
“The first step is to agree a meaning because the term is being abused and has become subject to revisionism. Decolonisation means giving up power and ceding territory. So, applied to the UK heritage sector, decolonisation should involve increasing accessibility by diversifying the workforce and expanding audiences to reflect the diversity of our communities. Paramount to an effective engagement with decolonisation is the tackling of the dubious provenance of objects in our collections either through repatriation or reparation. Anything less is a distortion of the word ‘decolonisation’.”
Stephen Welsh, curator of living culture, Manchester Museum
“We need to further challenge, disrupt and transform western colonial modes of curation, which were established to analyse, catalogue, display and preserve objects and specimens in isolation from countries of origin, diaspora communities and traditional owners. Such practices continue to inflict loss, trauma and exclusion on those people and places most intimately connected with collections. This is a collective endeavour; it can only be done in partnership and will require a deepening commitment to healing, reconciliation and inclusion. We need bolder action to embed this.”
Liam Wiseman, relationship manager, museums, ACE
“It’s clear that the conversation about decolonisation has been approaching a critical mass in the past few years, and it’s now in the public realm. There is definitely appetite for increased decolonial practice but also a lack of guidance for how to go about it. This year, Arts Council England (ACE) will be working on guidance for decolonisation alongside the Museums Association, as well as producing updated guidance on restitution of cultural objects. Museums can be catalysts for real change, and the sector should embrace the opportunities that decolonisation will bring.”