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Accepted Paper:

Paths of responsibility: “decolonial” engagements of a museum director.  

Author:

Boris Wastiau (Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève)

Paper short abstract:

What is “taking responsibility” as a museum director and as an anthropologist in an “ethnographic museum”? Who may I speak for, and do I speak “for the West”? The paper will address the decolonial engagements and repositioning of the Geneva Museum of Ethnography (MEG) and its curatorial staff.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will address the responsibility of defining the future management of collections of colonial nature and provenance in a so-called “ethnographic museum” in a country, Switzerland, which had an indirect engagement in European colonialism. It will review briefly the broad array of stakeholders and present the steps that the curatorial team has taken to “decolonise the collections” and to engage in a renewed curatorship. Emphasis will be given to new responsibilities defined and endorsed by museum staff in relation to the strategic objectives they have defined for the 2020-2024 period, and to the positioning strategy of the institution. Responsibility will also be considered in the context of institutional risk analysis and delegation of competence. What responsibilities are defined and distributed in the governance of the museum? What responsibilities are defined by professional or personal ethics? The paper will then challenge the (colonial?) notion of “heritage institution”, its self-imposed and unreconstructed core missions and curatorial traditions, which must be addressed in a real epistemological break to enable new forms of engagement with our audiences and partners. In this context, who may I speak for, as a citizen and as an anthropologist, as a museum director and as a civil servant, and do I feel legitimate to speak “for Europe” or “for the West”?

Panel Speak21a
Taking responsibility for colonial heritage in Europe? Perspectives from organisational ethnographies I