Home / Events / #ReconstructionWork: Can the museum be decolonised?
7th July 2021
#ReconstructionWork: Can the museum be decolonised?
Date and Time
7th July 2021
Speakers and Artists
Our #ReconstructionWork online conversation series continues this year with another special event in partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) with support from Arts Council England.
On Wednesday 7th July, the Stuart Hall Foundation is hosting an online roundtable to think through the possibilities of decolonising the museum. The event will include short presentations from the panel of guest speakers followed by a chaired discussion:
• Mohammed Ali, Artist/Curator, Founder of Soul City Arts and Trustee of Birmingham Museums
• Sado Jirde, Director, Black South West Network
• Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Writer and Poet
• Ahdaf Soueif, Writer
• Intro: Bridget Byrne, Director, the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE)
• Chair: Orsod Malik, Digital Content Curator, Stuart Hall Foundation
What can the concept of decolonisation look like in practice and in relation to the museum? We welcome Ahdaf Soueif, Mohammed Ali, Sado Jirde and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan to share their experiences working within and without the museum to examine whether or not the museum can be a space for realising disruptive and radical possibilities. They will be discussing what and who the museum is for, the relationship between the museum and the construction of racial hierarchies as well as the museum’s entanglements with the history and legacies of colonisation.
This event will take place online and closed captions will be provided.
The Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) is an ESRC funded research centre providing theoretically informed, empirically grounded and policy-relevant research on ethnic inequalities in the UK. They bring together expertise from a range of disciplines including sociology, demography, economics, history, geography, political science, cultural studies and seek to communicate their research to a wide range of audiences.
CoDE has recently launched EVENS – Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS). This is the UK’s first and largest survey of its kind to document the impact of Covid-19, and the lockdowns, on 17,000 ethnic and religious minority people. Participate in EVENS.
Ahdaf Soueif is the author of the bestselling The Map of Love (shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999 and translated into more than 30 languages). Her account of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Cairo: a City Transformed, came out in January 2014. Her collection of essays, Mezzaterra (2004), has been influential and her articles for the Guardian in the UK are published in the European and American press. In 2007 Ms Soueif co-founded the Palestine Festival of Literature which takes place annually in occupied Palestine. In 2020, after serving for 7 years, she resigned from the British Museum Board of Trustees.
Mohammed Ali is an award-winning artist, curator and producer, and a trustee of Birmingham Museums. He has been commissioned to work internationally with leading galleries, festivals, arts centres and theatres to produce large scale murals in open spaces in the communities where people work, live and play. Mohammed is the founder of Soul City Arts, a leading independent arts organisation based in Birmingham that has worked with artists, academics and activists from around the world to commission and present innovative exhibitions, performances and digital installations. He has worked extensively in places like Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, New York and South Africa.
Sado Jirde is the director of Black South West Network (BSWN), a charity focused on human rights, equality, access to knowledge and socio-economic inclusion within the framework of advocating on behalf of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.She sits on various advisory groups and committees including the WECA Cultural strategy group, the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Afrikans Legacy Steering Group, Voice for Change England, the Baobab Foundation Steering group, and the Coalition for Race Equality organisation (CoRE) nationally. Amongst other accolades, she was most recently listed as a Women of Inspiration: 100 social enterprise leaders showing Covid who’s boss in 2020 and awarded West Woman of the Year – Most Inspirational Role Model in 2019.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is an educator and poet who disrupts narratives of race, history and knowledge in her writing and workshops. She is the author of ‘Postcolonial Banter’ (2019), host of the Breaking Binaries podcast, and published in multiple anthologies and national media publications. Her work has millions of views online.
Bridget Byrne is director of the ESRC Centre – CoDE (Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity and Inequality) and is currently directing a large project examining the impact of Covid19 on racialised and minoritised groups. Bridget’s numerous published works include the books ‘White lives: the interplay of ‘race’, class and gender in everyday life (Routledge), which was was joint winner of the BSA Philip Abrams Award 2006, ‘Making Citizens: public rituals and
Orsod Malik is a digital archivist, curator, content producer, and editor. Orsod is the Stuart Hall Foundation’s Digital Content Curator and the editor of the Imagined Futures Series. He is the founder of @code__switch, an archive/continuum of radical internationalism. His research focuses on disrupting colonial temporalities and exhuming peripheral histories to draw links between anti-imperial struggles and thought across space and time.
Looking Back to Look Forward: Imagining a World Without State Violence
By: Liz Fekete
The abolitionist call to ‘defund the police’ was dismissed tout court as ‘nonsense’ by Labour leader Keir Starmer last summer, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in the UK. Starmer added that he would have ‘no truck with that’, as his support for the police was ‘very, very strong’. More recently, home secretary Priti Patel declared herself in full agreement with a colleague who justified the police’s violent response to the Sarah Everard vigil on the grounds that it had been hijacked by ‘those who seek to defund the police and destabilise our society’.
At the heart of this knee-jerk rejection of the calls to ‘defund and divest’ is a distorted vision of abolitionism as a crude attack on the police that undermines a vital public service for the maintenance of the ‘natural’ order. However, if policing does not deliver safety and destabilises community life instead, shouldn’t we be able to advocate for alternatives?Increased funding for policing (new weaponry, the expansion of the immigration and counter-extremism units, the embedding of quasi paramilitary squads in multicultural working-class neighbourhoods) has coincided with neoliberal economic policies that privatise state assets and shrink the welfare state. Abolitionists’ daring response to the social crises that this has engendered is to suggest that we divest from ‘law and order’ and redirect resources upstream so as to address mental ill-health, fund youth clubs, build affordable homes, and counter the harms done by racism and sexism at their roots. That’s not ‘nonsense’, or ‘anti-police’, it’s a simple demand for a more rational and more humane use of resources.
Today, abolitionists are under attack from those who believe that the violence of policing is necessary to maintain the existing order. Imagining a world where state violence is no longer an acceptable way of resolving social problems necessitates an active engagement with history.
The tumultuous period we are living through is redolent of earlier periods when ordinary people rejected the existing order, whether it was the divine right of kings or tyrannical forms of governance.Rejecting the idea that history was made by the great and the good, or educated, professional modernisers, they set out to make history themselves, and abolitionist demands – far from being new – were at the centre of such calls for justice.
Today’s abolitionist arguments, associated with Critical Resistance and theMovement for Black Lives (MBL) in the US reverberate across continents and time, echoing the English Diggers of the seventeenth century (abolition of the aristocracy and property in land),Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Ellen Craft,Robert Wedderburnand Harriet Tubman (abolition of slavery), the Communist organisers Rosa Luxemburgand Claudia Jones(opposition to militarism/abolition of imperialist wars), the Brazilian indigenous environmentalist and trades unionistChico Mendes(abolition of the savage extraction of resources from the Amazon). And there are pre-democracy resonances too. For even before the existence of the modern state, subjugated people, rebelling against exploitation, illegitimate authority, cruel punishment and oppressive laws, spoke from their unique abolitionist frameworks. such as the 1381 Peasants Revolt against the poll tax. Taking advantage of periods when ‘the old world… is running up like parchment in the fire’, the leaders of rebellions, their visions of a fairer world immortalised in abolitionist tracts, voiced scepticism about institutions, beliefs and systems of punishment. Each and every one of these abolitionist thinkers were ridiculed and condemned in their times. Their persecutors were those who believed that the seemingly ‘natural’ order was sacred and immutable.
Looking back gives us the historical tradition in which to contextualise abolitionist demands but they do not explain the current moment. We need to acknowledge that the modern state and modern policing are very different to those of the past. It isthe state that provides the authority and scaffolding from which all other violence flows – its power, to paraphrase Bertold Brecht, is the ‘storm’ that ‘bends the backs of the roadworkers’ – we need to understand how the state operates in the neoliberal context.
In a neoliberal market state – where government serves the interests of the market – state power is far less constrained than it was in the twentieth century. After the Chartists, and following the rise of the trade union movement, the industrial working class had bargaining power and clout. Today, the power of trades unions has been dissipated and working-class communities have been decimated by decades of neglect and austerity.Much of ‘law and order’, including the running of prisons, is provided by private security companies. Today’s private/public police corps keeps a lid on the crisis, while serving the interests of both state and market.
As shown by death after death in police custody(Sean Rigg, Leon Briggs, Kevin Clarke, George Nkencho, to name a few), the escalation of police force is lethal. If the police cannot be trusted to take someone experiencing a mental health crisis to a place of safety then we need to create a community corps trained in de-escalation techniques and motivated by a creed of care. This is what is meant by an abolitionist step based on a pragmatic demand to de-escalate violence.
This is the time when a dynamic counter culture to an unbridled capitalism can take root. But counter cultures can fail when they (however inadvertently) replicate the violence of existing power relations. Many of the social movements that we were involved with in the 1980s and 1990s failed to remove harmful power relations from their structures, replicating the state’s racism and patriarchy, for instance. State power today has become more opaque – and herein lies a new challenge for contemporary abolitionism.
Repeated panics about law and order, as Stuart Hallfamously said, serve an ideological function related to social control, creating public support for ‘policing the crisis’. Under neoliberalism this involves mass criminalisation and an expanded prison state. It is not ‘nonsense’ to suggest we take money away from the police and redirect it upstream. What abolitionism offers is a road map to the future, which begins with addressing the social crisis and misery in front of us. If this is utopia, it is within reach.
“Progress is the realisation of Utopias” – Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)
Liz Fekete is Director of the Institute of Race Relations and author of A suitable enemy: racism, migration and Islamophobia in Europe (Pluto press, 2009) and Europe’s Fault Lines: racism and the rise of the Right (Verso, 2018) which won the Bread & Roses award for radical publishing 2019. Active in anti-racist movements since the 1980s , she was an expert witness at the Basso Permanent People’s Tribunal on asylum and the World Tribunal on Iraq.
In Selected Writings on Race and Difference, editors Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore gather more than twenty essays by Stuart Hall that highlight his extensive and groundbreaking engagement with race, representation, identity, difference, and diaspora. Spanning the whole of his career, this collection includes classic theoretical essays such as “The Whites of their Eyes” (1979) and “Race, the Floating Signifier” (1997). It also features public lectures, political articles, and popular pieces that circulated in periodicals and newspapers, which demonstrate the breadth and depth of Hall’s contribution to public discourses of race. Foregrounding how and why the analysis of race and difference should be concrete and not merely descriptive, this collection gives organizers and students of social theory ways to approach the interconnections of race with culture and consciousness, state and society, policing and freedom.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Paul Gilroy is one of the foremost theorists of race and racism working and teaching in the world today. Author of foundational and highly influential books such as There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack (1987), The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), Against Race (2000), Postcolonial Melancholia (2005) and Darker Than Blue (2010) alongside numerous key articles, essays and critical interventions, Gilroy’s is a unique voice that speaks to the centrality and tenacity of racialized thought and representational practices in the modern world. He has transformed thinking across disciplines, from Ethnic Studies, British and American Literature, African American Studies, Black British Studies, Trans-Atlantic History and Critical Race Theory to Post-Colonial theory. He has contributed to and shaped thinking on Afro-Modernity, aesthetic practices, diasporic poetics and practices, sound and image worlds. He is Professor of the Humanities and Founding Director, Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism & Racialisation at University College London.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore is professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies, and the director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. Co-founder of many grassroots organizations including the California Prison Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance, and the Central California Environmental Justice Network, Gilmore is author of the prize-winning Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (UC Press). Recent publications include “Beyond Bratton” (Policing the Planet, Camp and Heatherton, eds., Verso); “Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence” (Futures of Black Radicalism, Lubin and Johnson, eds., Verso); a foreword to Bobby M. Wilson’s Birmingham classic America’s Johannesburg (U Georgia Press); and a foreword to Cedric J. Robinson on Racial Capitalism, Black Internationalism, and Cultures of Resistance (HLT Quan, ed., Pluto). Forthcoming projects include Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition (Haymarket); Abolition Geography (Verso); plus a collection of Stuart Hall’s writing on race and difference (co-edited with Paul Gilroy, Duke UP).
The Stuart Hall Foundation by Jess Hall and Richard Harrington
Stuart Hall Foundation Film by Jess Hall and Richard Harrington.
Inspired by the life and work of Professor Stuart Hall, the Stuart Hall Foundation is committed to public education, addressing urgent questions of race and inequality in culture and society through talks and events, and building a network of SHF scholars and artists in residence.
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