Culture& and Black Cultural Archives’ Perspectives Series – September 2020

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, Re-evaluate and Regenerate.

 

Errol Francis, CEO and Artistic Director, Culture&

Re-educate

To re-educate in relation to decolonisation is to unlearn some things we think we know and relearn the past in order to create new knowledge about the present. This means interrogating historical systems of ideas such as what is ‘heritage’, how it is understood, to whom does it apply and how it is delivered.

Re-evaluate

Proper decolonisation must involve a re-evaluation or re-assessment of the past in order to inform new contemporary strategies in theory and practice. This may result in a re-setting of what we value and how we interpret it – whether this be a historical discipline such as curating, museology – an object, interpretation or visual representation).

Regenerate

Decolonisation should not necessarily invoke loss (of objects) or a diminution in the importance of heritage – but it may generate new forms of power. It should provide new impetus and relevance for the things we value, rather than those we may own, so that the museum can become a postcolonial place of humanity rather than only a space for objects.

Sharon Heal, Director, Museums Association

Re-educate

That’s interesting.  That’s quite loaded and there will be a perception that it is pejorative and means that you have to unlearn and are told what the new narratives are so it sounds very top down and not very interactive.  There is a difference between education and learning in perception and reality. I would prefer to use learning; because it is a continual journey and it’s not curriculum based.  I think it is more about a process than educate and then re-educate.  It feels more positive.

Re-evaluate

That is a really useful term. I think it is sounds much more reflective and more of a re-evaluation of our relationship with source communities or with countries and communities that we had an imperial relationship with in the past and all the negatives associated with that. It sounds more reflective which is the best way to describe it.

Regenerate

I like regenerate.  Cultural regeneration is one of my associations with regeneration.  It is a positive thing to set out and bring about in a town or city or any space.  It recognises the power of culture in people’s hearts and minds.  It has had some negative associations in the past with some who don’t believe in that power but my association is positive.  Regenerate is about growth, rebirth and development so I would see that in a positive way.  If you think about it in post-industrial towns and cities, regeneration is saying that there is cultural and community worth in a place so you don’t have to leave that place to be fulfilled.  So regenerative ideas are positive.

 

Maya Wilson, Masters Student, Goldsmiths University, London

‘All three of these words are integral to decolonisation in the art museum as each one is essential for the implementation and success of the other. Re-education cannot be done without re-evaluation – of what is being exhibited, why it was chosen, who chose it and how it is interpreted. Only once we re-evaluate and re-educate can we begin to regenerate a system that is currently hugely flawed and neglects the lives and narratives of people across the world.

Of course, it is not that simple. Can re-evaluation and re-education really be achieved without a major upheaval?  This is where another word comes into play: democratisation. Decolonisation will not happen if we continue to issue top down policies and give a minute group of people (all too often, middle class men) total control.  Even if this group of people were to broaden the stories that they tell, they are still essentially curating lives and histories that do not belong to them.

I can’t say I am in anyway an expert on how to decolonise these sectors. My only thought is that perhaps a greater focus on the digital, as I’m sure will happen following this pandemic, would allow for greater representation within and wider access to art and heritage.’

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