Often at the political crossroads between state institutions and associations calling for increased emphasis on the memory, truth and colonial legacies, museal institutions that speak about slavery have historically reinforced patrimonial discourses that celebrate European abolitionists and neutralize claims to alternate memories.
Ten years after the international colloquium “Exposer l’esclavage-méthodologies et pratiques” (Musée du Quai Branly, 11-13 May 2011), and amidst recent calls to “decolonize” museums, our collection seeks to examine the representation of colonial slave trade and slavery across European museal contexts. Our project proposes to investigate the degree to which European museums featuring the slave trade, slavery and their abolitions have responded to many of the questions raised at this colloquium by museum directors, scholars, and artists. Given the recent explosion of global protests against racialized police brutality and the desecration of statues and monuments symbolizing racism, what further changes do these museums envision?
In what ways do the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, the Museums of Bristol and Glasgow, the Musée d’histoire de Nantes, the Musée d’Aquitaine de Bordeaux, the Musée du Nouveau-Monde de la Rochelle, and Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum or Rijksmuseum, just to name a few, narrativize slavery within their permanent and temporary exhibits and how has this evolved over time? Especially in the absence of physical objects owned by the enslaved, we are particularly interested in the museographical strategies museums implement to represent the ultimately unspeakable and unrepresentable horrors of the slave trade and the plantation. For example, what role do contemporary art and artists play in permanent or temporary exhibits in representing the silenced and forgotten experiences of the enslaved? In what ways do they decolonize or, as Christine Chivallon says, “scandalize” the inherently and perhaps inescapably Western space that is the museum? How does art remember differently, thereby breaking with national museographical narratives that maintain a hierarchy of memory and superficially celebrate multicultural social cohesion?
Finally, how does or can art address the gaps between history and memory and connect the slave past to its cultural, racial, economic, and social legacies today? In what ways do these works of art, and the museums that “hold” them, incite visitors to see and to relate to these connections and to engage in social justice? Particularly at this moment when—in the midst of a global pandemic that has accentuated racial disparities in healthcare—there are worldwide protests against police brutality (Black Lives Matter) and the international desecration of statues and monuments connected to slavery, what role should the museum play in moving societies toward postcoloniality?
We are seeking contributions—theoretical and/or descriptive—from academic scholars, curators, and artists on topics including:
· The museographies of colonial slavery in European museal spaces (in Britain, the Netherlands, France and the Iberian Peninsula–Spain and Portugal)
· The use of muséohistoire/museohistory to question the staging and narrativization of museum exhibits on colonial slavery
· The role of art in permanent and/or temporary exhibits on colonial slavery
· The limits of museographical/patrimonial discourses to represent the enslaved’s experience. (Is the slave, as says Achille Mbembe, an “anti-museum figure”?)
· The use of alternative museographies (digital technologies, multimedia, interactive, immersive, multisensorial exhibits, web-based museums) to supplement, question, and challenge traditional exhibits
· The role of the museum as social agitator/harmonizer in moving communities toward understanding/reconciliation of a shared history
This book project grew out of a series of conferences titled “Objets et enjeux des représentations de l’esclavage colonial” / “Objects and Stakes of Slavery Commemoration”:
“Scénographies et regards d’artistes” / “Scenographies and the Role(s) of Art(ists)” (Paris 8; December 2018);
“Décolonisation des discours et regards d’artistes / “Decolonizing discourses and the Role(s) of Art(ists)” (U. de Picardie, Amiens; March 2019); and
“Retours à l’Afrique” / “Returns to Africa” (Bandjoun Station; Université Dschang, Cameroon, November 2019).
Authors will be invited to present their contributions at our next colloquium–“Objects and Stakes of Slavery Commemoration: Mapping Slavery Memories and Artistic Visions” / “Objets et enjeux des représentations de l’esclavage colonial: Cartographies des mémoires et regards d’artistes”–at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire Paul Eluard de la ville de Saint-Denis as part of the (postponed) Africa2020 project with the Institut Français planned on June 10th and 11th 2021. If the pandemic prevails, this international colloquium will be virtual.
Please do not hesitate to send questions prior to deadline.
Participants are encouraged to include moving or still images to accompany their submissions.