Museums, Slavery and Post-colonialism


Nightingale Brown House (357 Benefit St.), First Floor Lecture Room

This public event is hosted by the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice [contact] and is part of their International Curators Meeting, Fall 2014.

Panel 1, 2:00-3:45pm:  The Post-colonial Museum: Rethinking Space, Archive and Heritage

In the after-life of the colonial and in such contexts as post–apartheid the museum becomes a site of contestation, not only around issues of representation but of its value.  Both the colonial and apartheid systems presented museums as both forms of knowledge in which difference was marked and transformed into an “other,” who was always exotic and not quite human.   Museums as “cabinet of curiosities” became the center of the ethnographic gaze which transformed human communities into things / objects of the colonial gaze.  All this means that the transformation of the former colonial museum is a complicated effort given the ways in which frames of thinking are still dominated by traces of the colonial gaze.

This panel will present curators and leading thinkers on museum practices who will explore these complications and dilemmas.  

Bambi Ceuppens, Curator, Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale
Wayne Modest, Head of the Research Centre for Material Culture at the National Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands
Ibrahima Thiaw, Curator, Museum of Cheikh Anta Diop Institute

Panel 2, 4:00-6:00pm:  Slavery, History, and the Exhibition of Catastrophes

Recognizing that forms of representation themselves are freighted with history and that some sites of domination produce forms of life which may not be representable, curating slavery and its various histories has always been problematic. Does one show horror to evoke sympathy for the slave?  Does one focus on the life of the master and present narratives, which illustrate the character of the system?  How does one grapple with the voice of the slave when the formal archives may be silent?  This panel will grapple with these matters.

Nancy Bercaw, Curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian
Anna-Karina Caudevilla, Secretary General in Charge of International Relations, Les Anneaux de la Mémoire
Paul Tichmann, Curator Social History, Iziko Museums of South Africa