Seminar: Fleeting Commitments or Can the Museum be Decolonised?

Dogon artwork from the 18th-19th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo credits: Steven Zucker (via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

This event will take place both online and physically in Leiden. All registrees will receive a link to the online platform one day before the start of the event.

'Decolonise' as a term, as a concept, has (re)emerged recently to describe diverse demands for and practices of 'institutional' change. Numerous grassroots activist initiatives, including Decolonise this Place in the USA and Decolonise the Museum in the Netherlands and other European contexts, have appeared, demanding the decolonisation of museums, universities and archives, as well as curricula, methodologies and even disciplines. What are the promises of, as well as the problems with, such attempts at 'decolonisation'? Indeed, these initiatives have not been without contestations, for example regarding definitions or the inclusion and exclusion of certain voices.

In this presentation, Prof. Wayne Modest (Director of Content of the National Museum of World Culture) explores these demands to decolonise museums, and other heritage institutions, and the museums’ responses. He remains close to his own experience of these initiatives, including in other places across Europe, while focusing on the Tropenmuseum, where he has worked for some time. Modest's attempt here will not be celebratory, but explores the numerous issues that have emerged within his work, while making broader comments about the global political moment in which these calls for decolonisation come and what it means for the museum.

Moderator: Prof. Wouter van Beek.

Wayne Modest is Director of Content of the National Museum of World Culture (a museum group comprising the Tropenmuseum, Museum Volkenkunde, Africa Museum) and the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He is also Professor (by special appointment) of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. A cultural studies scholar by training, Modest works at the intersection of material culture, memory and heritage studies, with a strong focus on colonialism and its afterlives in Europe and the Caribbean. His most recent publications include the co-edited publications, Matters of Belonging: Ethnographic Museums in A Changing Europe (Sidestone Publications, 2019, together with Nick Thomas, et al), and Victorian Jamaica (Duke University press: 2018, together with Tim Barringer).

Date, time and location

31 May 2022
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 1.A21