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Accepted Paper:

Diaspora(s), Source Communities and Museum Collections. Collaboration and Controversies over the Renovation of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren  

Author:

Damiana Otoiu (Bucharest University)

Paper short abstract:

The AfricaMuseum in Tervuren, an emblematic monument of Belgium’s colonial history, has just reopened its doors after a thorough renovation intended to decolonialize it. The present paper retraces some of the key moments of the interactions between museum staff and African diaspora(s).

Paper long abstract:

In December 2018, the Royal Museum for Central Africa of Tervuren, in the vicinity of Brussels (RMCA, renamed AfricaMuseum) reopened its doors to the public after thorough reconceptualization. In a room full of museum employees from several continents, researchers, politicians, art dealers and journalists, Billy Kalonji, chairman of the RMCA-African Associations Advisory Committee (COMRAF) and member of the Group of Six, applauded the reopening as a « great milestone for African communities », especially because the reconceptualization of the museum had been achieved after a series of debates (‘sometimes quite heated ones,’ he added) between the museum’s team and ‘African diasporas’. The main goal of the renovation project and of the founding of the COMRAF was, in the words of museum’s director Guido Gryseels, to develop “a more critical narrative about the colonial past, compared with the one-sided perspective we used to offer” (AfricaMuseum 2018). A second, no less essential aim was to transform the former “temple” of colonial propaganda as conceived by the Belgian king Leopold II into a “platform for debates which welcome all opinions” (Ibid.). Whereas the reopening of the museum was celebrated indoors, the collective No Name gave an artivist performance outdoors, waving placards with the slogan ‘A stolen past, a stolen present. Freedom for the people of DR Congo. End white power over African heritage.’

In the present paper, I propose to retrace some of the key moments of the interactions between museum staff and African diaspora(s) during the first decade of the COMRAF’s activities.

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