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Museums as spaces for anti-racism 
Anna Rastas (Tampere University)
Carol Ann Dixon (University of Sheffield)
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Material Culture and Museums
Tuesday 22 June, 14:00-15:45 (UTC+3)

Short Abstract:

This panel explores museums as spaces for anti-racism with examples of empirical studies on museums and museum work covering a wide range of activities from research and curating to planning and organizing cultural programs and collaboration with minoritized communities.

Long Abstract

Over centuries of assemblage, interpretation and storytelling through the display of cultural objects in museums there has been a tendency to distort and erase the long-standing presence of diverse communities of colour and other racialized minorities throughout continental Europe, thus promoting and homogenising whiteness as a norm. The resulting exclusion and marginalisation of histories that evidence and speak to the lived experiences of ethnically diverse indigenous and settled peoples across Europe has heavily influenced the way knowledge has conventionally been presented within exhibition spaces through artefact collections, artworks, interpretation literature and programmes of pedagogical activities. Furthermore, the significant under-representation of racialized minorities within the staffing and governance structures of museums has also led to the emergence of exclusionary discourses and practices that present the histories of European nations through racialized optics. This falsely 'monoculturalist gaze' perpetually situates people at the periphery of socio-cultural and political life.

A growing body of academics, artists, curators and other creative professionals working with/in (with and in) museums, galleries and the wider arts and heritage sectors have become increasingly engaged in scholarly discourses and practice-based work that is seeking to transform the sector's problematic legacies of exclusion and marginalisation through anti-racist and decolonial activism.

Papers in this session will, therefore, discuss a range of the collaborative interventions that have been pursued and are currently in development to bring about progressive change in the sector and foster cultures of visibility, plurality and validation for Europe's multicultural past, present and future.

Accepted papers:


Anna Rastas (Tampere University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses some of the findings of two ethnographic projects during which I have explored representations of African diaspora communities and articulations of racism and anti-racism in museums in different countries in Europe, the United States, and Africa.

Paper long abstract:

Regardless of their field, the responsibility to consider the legacy of colonialism and the implications of racism falls on every museum. Many museums have begun to reform their policies and methods of work to become less racist or antiracist, approaching the subject from a variety of different circumstances. Differences already arise in which disciplines are central to each museum, and what subjects they specialize in. Some museums have approached the issue through examining their own history and collections from new perspectives, some have focused more on creating new collaborative networks and developing more inclusive work practices, and often these strategies have been combined. Some museums have not yet begun the project at all.

To view the multifaceted relationship between museums and anti-racism requires a variety of perspectives. For museums, an inclusive anti-racist work approach brings with it, among other things, the question of who may represent marginalized groups and racialised minority communities. In addition to other factors, the heterogeneity of communities of people who identify with racialized minorites, as well as the nature of activism practiced by some communities can complicate creating a dialogue and collaboration between museums and their audiences.


Carmen Levick (University of Sheffield)

Paper short abstract:

The analysis of Hannah Khalil’s play probes the opportunities that theatre and performance offer to museal dramaturgies of display, as a forum to expose the complex cultural and social challenges that emerge from the connection between national museums, identity and collective and cultural memories.

Paper long abstract:

The analysis of Hannah Khalil’s play probes the opportunities that theatre and performance offer not only to the theoretical analysis of museums and their dramaturgies of display, but also as a forum to expose the complex cultural and social challenges that emerge from the intimate connection between national museums, national identity and collective and cultural memories. Any discussion of museums, nationhood and theatre in A Museum in Baghdad, is necessarily informed by the colonial/postcolonial/re-colonial relationship, stamped onto the text and the performance through the continuous interaction between the past, present and possible futures of a semi-fictional Iraq. In the play, the colonial/postcolonial aesthetic focuses on Gertrude Bell’s Baghdad Archaeological Museum, created as a mirror image of a traditional Western museum, and seen both as a vehicle of nation-making and as an imposition and reminder of colonial power. The museum becomes a space where multiple tensions are explored, a microcosm of society and nation, a space of engagement with conflicting intellectual frameworks. All these elements create a comprehensive portrayal of a play and a performance that raise quite a few challenging questions about the tension between colonial and post-colonial displays of cultural memory in a theatrical setting. The colonial and post-colonial museums become main characters within a play that tackles a range and complexity of issues on a scale that risks obscuring the essential aspect of colonial intervention in the creation of national identity and the lasting effects of such interference in the discourse of cultural memory.


AnnCristin Winroth (Umeå University)

Paper short abstract:

What does it mean to collect personal Stories at Museums in Sweden? Within a Project called Priority, Minority at Västerbotten County Museum six ethnic Groups recognized by the State as National Minorities with special rights to preserve their cultural Heritage, was invited to collaborate.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I will reflect upon the role and meaning of the narrative turn in the practice of collecting and exhibiting personal stories at museums, especially the ones that are identified to be missing in the collections. Museums and other heritage institutions have been collecting personal stories in line with contemporary discourses.

The awareness of the lack of diversity has driven the museum to a normcritical approach, recognizing the need of lifestories from people and groups not so much, or not at all represented in the archives and documentations; workers, women, immigrants, our six national minorities, homeless, HBTQ-persons, unemployed, chronic ill. Stories and storytelling seem to be a new magic pin, a solution to many earlier problems with lack of representation.

I will present and discuss this theme on general basis at Cultural Museums in Sweden with a certain focus on a project called Priority, Minority at Västerbotten county museum developed for and together with the six ethnic groups recognized by the state as National Minorities with special rights to preserve their cultural Heritage

The project started with etnographic fieldwork and filmed interviews with some people within this groups. Their stories was later exposed in an, at start, almost empty exhibition space with showcases and texts that served as both an invitation and a call to “leave your story here”. The exhibition ended up nine months later complete with both stories and things through a new form of collecting and collaboration strategy with the six minority groups.


Lorena Sancho Querol (Centro de Estudos Sociais, Universidade de Coimbra)
Fernanda Castro (National Historic Museum)
Aline Montenegro Magalhães (Instituto Brasileiro dos Museus Museu Histórico Nacional)
Ana Botas (Museu Nacional de Etnologia)

Paper short abstract:

The ECHOES Project focuses on the history of colonialism. Considering museums as “culturemakers” and powerful educational spaces, at WP4 we have been analysing the way African heritage is musealized and mediated at the National Historical Museum (RJ) and the National Ethnology Museum (Lisbon).

Paper long abstract:

ECHOES is a H-2020 Project focusing the history of colonialism to collectively listen and reshape merged colonial memories and cultural expressions that are at the heart of contemporary heritage debates, within and beyond Europe.

Researchers from WP4 have been analyzing the way national museums in Lisbon (Portugal) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) are managing the cultural traces related to musealised heritage resulting from the African presence in two national museums: National Historical Museum, in Rio, and National Ethnology Museum, in Lisbon.

Both museums have relevant collections related to colonial history and to African presence in each of the cities. Collections that can tell us about the dissonant dimensions of this history, so that society can better understand the essence of multi-ethnic identities, the hybrid nature of our cultures and of the multiplicity of forms of inhabiting space.

Museums are “culturemakers” that can act as a key element in the interpretation and collective uses of cultural heritages of colonial origin, and also as a powerful educational space to inclusively manage identity conflicts, seek consensus and build democracy.

How are these museums making use of these concepts to develop a critical pedagogy that can help society to reflect on the merged dimensions of colonial history in the XXIst century?

How and by whom are these collections being de-codified, interpreted, verbalized and integrated into our lives?

Have these heritages been repressed, removed and reframed, or are they re-emerging with a renewed role in current societies to be key empowering of subaltern memories?