The issue of colonialism in museums has been discussed and debated for decades, yet the problem persists. Museums continue to grapple with their colonial legacies, often falling short in their attempts to reconcile with their past and create a more equitable future. As we confront this issue, it is essential to look critically at how museums can truly shake off their colonial legacy, mainly through the perspective of feminist scholar and activist bell hooks.
In her book “Art on My Mind,” hooks writes, “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.” This sentiment can be applied to the role of museums as well. Museums have the power to reflect the world as it is and to imagine a more just and equitable future. To do this, museums must take concrete actions to address their colonial past and present and work towards a more equitable future.
One way to do this is by engaging with the communities they serve. Museums must actively involve community members in curating and interpreting exhibits and work to build trust and relationships with these communities. This means acknowledging past harm and working to repair the damage that has been done.
Another critical step is diversifying museum staff and leadership, ensuring that those creating and shaping exhibits represent various perspectives and experiences. This includes hiring staff from underrepresented communities and creating pipelines for young people from these communities to enter museum professions.
By taking these actions, museums can genuinely begin to shake off their colonial legacy and create a more equitable future. As bell hooks remind us, “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.” Let us imagine a future where museums are genuinely inclusive and equitable and take concrete steps to make that vision a reality.