Original Date: October 28, 2019
This Dialogue aimed to reflect on material culture, knowledge production, and relational ethics as they play out for museums on the African continent. In Dec 2018, Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations (MBC) opened, with the aim to be a space for self-representation and experimentation, that tells the story of the African continent in relation to black diasporic cultures. At its opening, many pointed to the uneven distribution of African material culture and art, which is primarily held in museums, public and private collections, and research centers in the Global North. Through the case of the MBC, we collectively reflected on the challenges of decolonizing knowledge and knowledge production on the African continent, in a context where it is said that over 90% of African material cultural heritage is in collections outside of the continent. This conversation also reflected critically on the narratives about a supposed “lack” of institutional support or public interest in museums on the African continent, and on the categories that condition what gets regarded as art and cultural heritage. We’d like to consider the question of feminist epistemology and what such a lens teaches us about decolonizing knowledge in or with museums, and the related concerns of repatriation, reparations, and curating (especially in the sense of caring for) life-sustaining cultural practices and creative expressions.
About Dr. Abigail E. Celis
Dr. Abigail E. Celis is an assistant professor in the Department of French & Francophone Studies and the African Studies Program at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on the artistic and literary production of Afro-descendants and postcolonial migrants in France, as well as the politics of cultural institutions such as museums and arts festivals. She has published or forthcoming work in French Studies, TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, et Rédaction, and Palimpsest: A Journal of Gender and the Black International, among other venues. She has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, and the Lurcy Foundation for her research.