Culture&, in collaboration with the Black Cultural Archives, continues its monthly series Perspectives, which invites persons from the arts and culture sector to respond to ‘Re’ words from Culture&’s 2020 decolonisation mantra. With the aim of gaining a richer understanding of what these terms mean from different points of view, this month they consider Re-educate, Responsibility and Relinquish.
Sam Allen, Arts Engagement Specialist and Founder of Creative Arts Social
Re-educate is such a powerful and necessary word. Decolonisation is not just the return of stolen objects to their origin. The effects of epistemological violence; the suppression and erasure of other knowledge systems, has allowed for those objects to be woven into an inaccurate whitewashing of history to justify them remaining in public (and private) display. The history taught in schools and the academic curriculum in universities also needs to be decolonised to re-educate. Galleries, museums and heritage spaces are supposed to be places of learning yet that is focused externally, not internally. They need to commit to their own re-education and acknowledge the limitations of accepted art history and the resources available to curators and learning teams, to enable them to encompass different perspectives on colonial history and the contribution of othered cultures on our national identity.
Responsibility is about the words you say and the actions that follow. The arts and heritage sector is obsessed with discourse around decolonisation but in reality, much less concerned with the outcomes of these discussions. Museums and heritage spaces have the responsibility to research the provenance of objects in their collections and are accountable for proactively reaching out to source communities about objects in their collections that may have been acquired through violent means. Both responsibility and accountability are essential elements in authentic decolonisation.
To relinquish is about rescinding power and control, not only over objects, but over the narrative thread of colonisation and how that consciously disempowered and usurped the rights of colonised countries, their peoples and the brutal means by which the emblems of their culture were taken. To relinquish power in decision making, approach and interpretation are all challenges that the museums and heritage spaces are struggling to evidence even after this years Black Live Matter movement showed how vital that was in the decolonisation debate.