Decolonize This Museum

Liberate Tate, Crude/Sunflower, 2010

Each of these art-affiliated collectives has targeted powerful institutions, and in particular museums, on the basis of climate justice, global wage workers, and indigenous struggle for dignity and sovereignty. In different ways these groups have pushed for museums to be more responsible to people rather than to funders, and to the mission they themselves claim to be furthering. The equilibrium to these struggles is simple: museums must publicly commit to socially responsible policies and positions.

As the art world is pulled further into the realm of ultra-luxury speculation, the social and ecological costs of this are distributed unevenly. In this moment of crisis and rupture worldwide there is no space for museums and cultural institutions to claim neutrality. Institutions, whether public or private, should not be trading on low wages and free labor or taking money from the oil industry.

Yet when decolonization is demanded as a political imperative the challenge to museums goes further. The rearrangement of relationships and the decentering of whiteness become prerequisite to a new culture of curating and exhibiting. Given the deep legacy of colonialism and white supremacy, how should museums spatially and conceptually re-classify their collections? Who generates the knowledge on which these classifications are built? What kind of action and organizing are required to transform the powerful institutions that occupy the top tier of the exhibitionary sector?

Liberate Tate and G.U.L.F. were both formed to mount pressure upon specific museums. Meanwhile, indigenous activists from NYC Stands With Standing Rock Collective are making renewed, action-led demands on the existing power structures that allocate European artifacts to art museums while the art and culture of colonized peoples is exhibited in natural history museums. The face off over indigenous sovereignty at Standing Rock is likewise a call to bring land and water justice into the heart of climate activism, and to make this central to cultural production.

In bringing these three groups into conversation, Decolonize This Place will attempt to lay the groundwork for a new phase of organizing and action aimed at museums and other large cultural institutions. Through this, struggles for global worker rights and ecological justice will be viewed as inextricable with those for the repatriation of land.