Like any medium, digital works best when it is rooted and contextual. Rooted, meaning accountable and informed by communal knowledge; contextual, meaning it’s ready to respond to the challenges and needs of the audience at any given time.
The lockdowns have made it clear that digital technologies are key for museums. They are vital for accessing and interpreting collections, connecting communities and raising funds.
So, when we talk about a Black British Museum, can we “do digital” in a way that is rooted in Blackness and responsive to the changing needs of a community constantly rediscovering itself?
Digital platforms are optimised for re-traumatising and exploitation
When I ask myself this question, I hear the voices of Sonia Boyce and Jon Daniel, two British-born artists with African Caribbean heritage. I am also reminded of the legacy of Black Girl Tech, a space for Black girls and women to learn and explore technology, and new design collectives such as Rooted by Design.
I also think of the digital divide and its impact on the Black community, the way digital platforms are optimised for re-traumatising and exploitation as seen through the viral scenes of Black death and the phenomenon of digital blackface.
Therefore, digital must be a space to provide healing and reparation. As the US music collective P-Funk put it: “If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home.”
Whether by creating accessible platforms, using decolonised and community-centred design methodologies, building on green hosting services, pushing for innovative approaches to database technology that provide equitable access to curators and community members alike, digital is a great way for the Black British Museum to critique and do things differently.
Florence Okoye is a researcher and experience designer