Decolonising Artefacts at the British Museum: Decolonising Heritage: Border Thinking, Border Practices

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

The British museum houses a vast array of artefacts from the early 20th Century and earlier brought to Britain from what at the time were British colonies. These objects are displayed today in the main still as objects belonging to different geographical areas and as such many of the objects were the subject of a debate on 'repatriation'. The narrative behind such calls followed the claim that the objects were 'native' to a different culture and a different people and to the extent that they are held by the British Museum, colonialism continues, albeit in a different format. The narrative that leads to such an argument insists that place of origin equals the identity of the object and the culture from which it derives is authentic and essential.

The paper will utilise some of Mignolo's arguments along side narratives which allow for the 'biography' of the object 'to speak' in order to argue that the objects can also be seen very differently. For example, the display of the Benin artefacts can tell a narrative of exchange, war and domination which is not the 'authentic' narrative of Benin, but that of exchanges between Portuguese traders Benin craftsworkers and British colonial power. Chinese porcelain can equally demonstrate trade and exchange which determined the design and production of what is presented as 'authentic' Chinese artefacts. This is even more obvious when such objects are presented in the context of other contemporary ceramics along the silk route. The paper will thus focus on objects and 'allow' such objects to tell the narrative of cultural exchange they hold. Whilst the current display is predominantly colonial, this display and curatorial practice could be overturned and in so doing decolonise the British Museum where the objects will tell the story of exchange in the context of power struggles of which colonisation was one.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe association of Critical Heritage Annual Conference
Subtitle of host publicationThe University of Hangzhou, China
Publication statusUnpublished - 4 Sep 2018

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    Foster, N. (2018). Decolonising Artefacts at the British Museum: Decolonising Heritage: Border Thinking, Border Practices. Unpublished. In The association of Critical Heritage Annual Conference: The University of Hangzhou, China