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Accepted Paper:

Decolonising the mission and the mission to decolonise: researching African missionary collections in European anthropology museums today  
Ana Rita Amaral (University of the Free State)

Paper short abstract:

Debates about decolonisation and museums have often been broad. Nevertheless, this paper aims to change scales and consider collections research. Taking the case of missionary collections from colonial Angola, it explores the limitations and potential of that research for the mission to decolonise.

Paper long abstract:

Debates about decolonisation and museums have been often and perhaps necessarily broad. While acknowledging their political and public relevance, this paper aims to change scales and bring to the debate what researching a collection entails. Which questions do we ask collections? How far can we go in accessing museum objects and archives? Is it relevant or possible to use methods such as fieldwork or oral history? How can we productively combine museum, archival and field research?

This paper proposes a reflection on these issues. It is based on the case study of two collections assembled by Catholic missionaries in Angola during the colonial period, which are currently in anthropology museums in Portugal. These collections are at the same time colonial, missionary, ethnographic, artistic, etc. They do not tell a single history, either about the mission or about the colonial. They can tell multiple stories and be curated in multiple ways. Collections associated with missionary activity have particular potential. Considering the Spiritan Fathers Angolan collections, we highlight two aspects. Firstly, they are extraordinarily diverse and less conditioned by anthropological and art-historical canons. They were assembled by different missionaries, in several regions, including from the famous Kongo minkisi minkondi to handicrafts. Secondly, they resulted from an activity which, with significant transformations, is still happening. The Spiritan Fathers still work and live in Angola.

This paper addresses the challenges of researching collections in critical ways, stressing their impure and plural character. It explores their curatorial potential within the debates around the decolonising mission.

Panel P179
Curating the (post)colonial in Europe and beyond
  Session 1 Wednesday 22 July, 2020, -