Rethinking Museums in the Era of Black Lives Matter

On September 30th, a court in Paris will be called to settle an uncommon case of attemped theft. The trial is for Mr. Mwazulu Diyabanza, a Congolese activist who, last June, walked into the Quai Branly Museum with a fellow member of his Pan-African movement with the intention of robbing a 19th-century wooden funerary post from central Africa. Diyabanza claimed he was responding to France’s own theft, one that dates back to its colonial era.

As the Black Lives Matter protests have rocked the US and much of the West over 2020, the fight against public traces of an unforgotten era of North-South domination has gained evermore attention in the public debate. A push that puts pressure on many Western cultural institutions and calls on them to reflect on their origins. Ethnography museums in particular are now finding themselves at the center of this debate.

From Paris to Geneva, from Tervuren to Berlin or Milan, all “museums of civilizations” – as they are now increasingly known – have for years been grappling with issues such as restitution, contextualization, ownership and a complete rethinking of their own mission.

This Dossier looks at this very challenge, one in which requests and pressures are far more clear than answers. Together with a piece outlining in detail what is at stake, readers will ‘hear’ voices and experiences from Europe and Africa on the matter. So that everyone, not just the court in Paris, can have their say and opinion on such strategic cultural question.

 

Cover Photo: Prosper Dagnitche / AFP