From De-colonial to Anti-colonial: What’s Next for Museum Interpretation? 26 November 2020
Introduction by Sonya Dyer, event programmer and chairperson
Welcome to From De-Colonial to Anti-Colonial – What’s Next for Museum Interpretation? We are so happy that you have chosen to join us for this vital conversation.
The aim of this project is to share some of the most exciting and critical ideas emanating from the broader museum and gallery sector and beyond in response to questions of how we interpret and understand what portraits tell us. In many respects, it can be seen as part of the ongoing conversation – what Stuart Hall called the Unfinished Conversation – around how Britain makes sense of itself, in this case through visual culture.
2020 has turned out to be quite a year. When I was first employed to work on this project I could not have anticipated a global pandemic that would expose to those who had not previously chosen to see it just how iniquitous our society is. Or indeed that this would be a year of racial uprising and racial reckoning, with Colston falling, record-breaking protests on several continents as the world watched – on a loop – a man slowing being killed (on camera in broad daylight) by state power.
Our sector does not exist in a vacuum. Our most illustrious museums and galleries are part of the legacy of colonialism and have historically played a pivotal role in disseminating narratives that privilege a particular point of view. The question we now have to ask is what happens beyond performative gestures of support on social media? How might Britain see itself – and its history – more clearly, and what role might portraiture play in this? Plainly, what new forms of looking, seeing and interpreting are being proposed?
This event itself is in two parts – firstly, the presentations from our amazing speakers which you can now view right here on this page. Secondly, there is the live webinar itself on Thursday 26th November, which features a keynote address from Prof Kehinde Andrews of Birmingham City University, and some thoughtful and provocative responses to questions surrounding the future of monuments and the role of artists in reimagining interpretation.
The live webinar will culminate in a discussion and Q&A with many of the speakers you are about to hear from, and we welcome your comments, questions and thoughts arising from these interventions. Feel free to disagree! Do get in touch – [email protected] – and we will aim to go through as many of them as possible on the day.
Our thanks to Subhadra, Alice, Michael, Anjalie, Sarah and Marenka. I’m confident that you will find their research, practices and perspectives a fitting starting point to the latest chapter in our Unfinished Conversation.
Keynote, interviews and presentations from this event:
Keynote: Prof. Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University
Interview: Peter Brathwaite, baritone, #GettyMuseumChallenge #BlackPortraiture, with Sonya Dyer, artist and academic
Interview: Paterson Joseph, actor and writer, with Sonya Dyer, artist and academic
Interview: Prof. Nicholas Mirzoeff, visual activist, with Sonya Dyer, artist and academic
Anjalie Dalal-Clayton, Research Fellow, Decolonising Arts Institute, University of the Arts London
Subhadra Das, writer, historian, broadcaster, comedian and museum curator at UCL Culture
Michael Ohajuru, Senior Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Alice Procter, art historian, writer, and educator
Sarah Thomas, Senior Lecturer in History of Art & Museum Studies, Birkbeck, University of London
Marenka Thompson-Odlum Research Associate, Pitt Rivers Museums
This short film by event Fellow Aksana Khan builds on the Understanding British Portraits webinar of November 2020, ‘From De-Colonial to Anti-Colonial – What’s Next for Museum Interpretation?’ Here, Aksana reflects on how the seismic events of 2020 have impacted the arts, museum and heritage sectors, and what remains to be done. Aksana speaks with two early career contemporary artists, Tayo Adekunle and Nilupa Yasmin, about the legacies of empire, decentring the white gaze, and what an anti-racist gallery or museum space might look like.