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Accepted Paper:

Diffusing Institutional Responsibility: strategies of deflection, artwashing and tokenism in the Museo Italo-Africano  

Author:

Alessandra Ferrini (University of the Arts London)

Paper short abstract:

Rome’s former Colonial Museum will re-open in 2021, within the Museo delle Civiltà. Hiding behind strategies of artwashing and tokenism, the museum’s alleged decolonial attitude will be read against its existing institutional practice, lack of funding and unchallenged fascist and racist roots.

Paper long abstract:

In May 2020, the Museum of Civilizations in Rome (Muciv) announced the opening of the Museo Italo-Africano in 2021. Located within the EUR fascist architectural complex, it will re-house the collection of the former Colonial Museum. Having laid in storage since 1971, it was handed over to the Muciv, an umbrella institution founded in 2016 and bringing together four existing ethnographic museums.

Several concerns have been raised on the actual feasibility of the project due to its timescale and understaffing. Moreover, funding has been allocated for display rather than research work, making the proposed collaborations with artists, scholars and representatives from former colonies, difficult to realise. The curators have since defined these plans as ‘decolonial’, without explaining how they will be implemented or how institutional racism will be challenged.

By analysing institutional practice, including the work with diasporic communities conducted by the Muciv so far as well as the unchallenged whiteness of their visual arts programme and staff, this paper will call into question the curators’ propositions. I will consider the Muciv’s celebratory attitude towards its fascist architecture and the ethnographers who founded its main collections - all involved in the development of scientific racism. I will then argue that the Muciv’s alleged criticality towards the history of the recently annexed former Colonial Museum, hides a refusal to account for its own history. Through strategies of ‘artwashing’ and tokenism the Muciv is thus able to deflect from their use of colonial and fascist rhetoric, and to maintain asymmetric power relations.

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