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Impossible histories, possible futures: dealing with absence in museum collections 
Nathalie Cooper (University of Warwick)
Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp (University College London)
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Arts and Culture (x) Decoloniality & Knowledge Production (y)
Philosophikum, S63
Saturday 3 June, -, -
Time zone: Europe/Berlin

Short Abstract:

This panel will explore archival absence as a central reality for museums with colonial era collections in both the West and on the African continent. It questions the role of archival absence in the ethical imagining of a decolonial future for museums.

Long Abstract:

This panel will explore archival absence as a central reality for museums with colonial-era collections in both the West and on the African continent, and methodologies for working with absence.

For many years, museums housing colonial-era collections both in the West and in Africa have faced calls to ‘decolonise’. Such calls assume the possibility (however remote) of a future in which museums are able to right their imperial wrongs through restitution and appropriate curation. Such visions of a ‘decolonised’ future imply that African museum collections contain necessary ‘evidence’ of colonial crimes which can be unlocked through provenance research.

Yet, museum stores and archives are more often defined by an absence of the very histories that might serve as a precondition to post-colonial accountability. In Europe, what is and what is not considered ‘evidence’ betrays its own tensions, as those seeking redress must evidence known injustices through institutional archives that were never compiled with specific object provenance research in mind.

This panel aims to explore the role of absence in the envisioning of a decolonial future for colonial-era African museum collections. To what extent are ethical imaginings of the future of museum collections entangled in assumptions about archival presence? Can we build an ethical museum practice that acknowledges absence? How can speculative histories allow us to imagine possible futures? What work needs to be undertaken to build new frameworks for ‘evidence’?

This panel will bring together provenance researchers, museum practitioners, writers of speculative histories and artists working with historical absence.

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Saturday 3 June, 2023, -
Session 2 Saturday 3 June, 2023, -