Museums & Memory WG | The Coloniality and Decolonising of Memory TFDC 2.14
Jul 06, 2023 09:00 - 10:30(Europe/London)
20230706T0900 20230706T1030 Europe/London 5.10. Museums and Memory #4: On Relationality and Repair: the Temporality of Cultural Memory

This panel will explore ways in which museums offer a framing or a site for consideration of a changing understanding of temporality in cultural memory. Ongoing shifts away from aggrandising narratives of "progress" or "civilisation" – woven through the institutionalisation of the colonial-modern – open up new valuations, for instance, of museums as sites for considering questions of relationality and repair. Developing a dynamic of what Ariella Azoulay has called "unlearning" with respect to imperialism, and of holding open "potential history", these concerns are evident in a museum culture that seeks to revalue the sense of anachronism crucially within contexts of historical justice. The panel will address these concerns in relation to examples of the current removal of Soviet era monuments in Estonia (Margaret Tali); "counter-memorial performance" with respect to legacies of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Canada (Trina Cooper-Bolam); and questions of "restitution" in respect of African art collections in Western museums (Mischa Twitchin).

Margaret Tali, Estonian Academy of Arts

What is Being Repaired? Public Monuments' Troubled Moves to Museums in EstoniaTriggered by Russia's war in Ukraine the Estonian government announced in the summer of 2022 that by the end of the year it would remove about 40 Soviet-era monuments from their current locations in public space. Similar developments have occurred also in other Baltic countries. The first object to be removed in the Estonian-Russian border-town Narva among 5 other Soviet-era monuments was a tank from the Second World War that had been set up in 1970 to mark 25 years of the conquering and destroying of the city by the Soviet army. After the tank was removed from its site by the g ...

TFDC 2.14 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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This panel will explore ways in which museums offer a framing or a site for consideration of a changing understanding of temporality in cultural memory. Ongoing shifts away from aggrandising narratives of "progress" or "civilisation" – woven through the institutionalisation of the colonial-modern – open up new valuations, for instance, of museums as sites for considering questions of relationality and repair. Developing a dynamic of what Ariella Azoulay has called "unlearning" with respect to imperialism, and of holding open "potential history", these concerns are evident in a museum culture that seeks to revalue the sense of anachronism crucially within contexts of historical justice. The panel will address these concerns in relation to examples of the current removal of Soviet era monuments in Estonia (Margaret Tali); "counter-memorial performance" with respect to legacies of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Canada (Trina Cooper-Bolam); and questions of "restitution" in respect of African art collections in Western museums (Mischa Twitchin).



Margaret Tali, Estonian Academy of Arts

What is Being Repaired? Public Monuments' Troubled Moves to Museums in Estonia

Triggered by Russia's war in Ukraine the Estonian government announced in the summer of 2022 that by the end of the year it would remove about 40 Soviet-era monuments from their current locations in public space. Similar developments have occurred also in other Baltic countries. The first object to be removed in the Estonian-Russian border-town Narva among 5 other Soviet-era monuments was a tank from the Second World War that had been set up in 1970 to mark 25 years of the conquering and destroying of the city by the Soviet army. After the tank was removed from its site by the government, it was taken to the Estonian Museum of War nearby Tallinn, where it was put on display on the next day after its removal. On the following days the site in the monument's original location in Narva was covered with flowers by people who were mourning their ancestors in a way which made it look like a burial site.

The staff of the Estonian War Museum has expressed reluctance to deal with this unexpected and unwanted "gift". This heavily mediated case will be followed by many other monuments that will be turned into museum objects, this prompts the question what does the supposed and particular repair of public space that turns museums into a space of their public neutralization really mean to the societies and how are the meanings of different communities taken into account in their contextualisation and public mediation? Since many monuments set up after 1949 have also been burial sites of unknown Soviet soldiers, then does the relationship of these statues to the remains really end with their being taken to museums? How are we to approach these monuments' and their ghosted transfers to museums? How can we live with them? And what kinds of roles and responsibilities are museums to carry towards them?


Dr Mischa Twitchin, Goldsmiths, University of London

On Relationality and Repair: Museums in the Time of Restitution

The artefacts of "world cultures" that are housed in the museums of the West are often defined in terms of a binary between being either timeless evidence of the heritage of humanity or the historical evidence of colonial theft. The institutions themselves are conceived of as either encyclopaedic guardians of cultural curiosity or provincializing prisons of cultural appropriation. Overlayered with another common binary between ethnographic history and art history, itself historically associated with interest in "traditional" or "contemporary" arts, these frameworks occlude as much as they reveal. While demands for restitution and reparative justice should surely be transformational for the cultural understanding of the West – developing processes of "unlearning" (Azoulay) and "decoloniality" (Mignolo) – these seem, nonetheless, barely to touch enduring neo-colonial realities of extraction and exploitation. This paper examines questions concerning the "return" of cultural artefacts, in particular African art collections in Western museums, in ways that explore the complex entanglements involved in networks of cultural memory, reflecting on modes of relationality, rather than simply "property". The manifold sense of "possession", for instance, engages with the cultural politics of community and change, of relation and repair, entailing a profound reappraisal of the memory politics of metropolitan museums.


Catalina Delgado Rojas, University of Manchester

The Gatekeepers of Culture and Memory: The Role of Public Cultural Institutions in State-Sponsored Symbolic Reparation Projects 

This paper examines the roles and challenges of cultural institutions in creating and running a symbolic reparation project. Previous studies have analysed symbolic reparation projects through macro perspectives, highlighting the responsibilities of the state, or micro perspectives, focusing on the impact of these projects on the individual (Hamber, 2006). The characterization of actors at the intermediate level has been scarce. This paper uses social network concepts to elucidate the social network structure of Fragments, a symbolic reparation memorial in Colombia, built by contemporary artist Doris Salcedo, after the Peace Accord of 2016. The presentation focuses on the key public cultural institutions participating in Fragments: the Ministry of Culture, the National Museum of Colombia and the Committee of Artistic Activities of Fragments. On the one hand, the analysis of the interviews with professionals working in those cultural institutions underlined their secondary role as facilitators and operators of the space. On the other hand, as the guardians of the space, administrating and managing the memorial, these institutions had a major impact in determining which actors could participate in the space. The findings highlighted how these institutions acted as doorkeepers, prioritizing the participation of artists over the communities they aimed to repair.

PhD Student
,
University of Manchester
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
,
Institute of Art History and Visual Culture, Estonian Academy of Arts
Senior lecturer
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Goldsmiths, University of London
Associate Professor
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CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College,
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