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.
In many ways, the pandemic has deeply unsettled the routines and rhythms of social life. That which seemed immovable or unquestionable suddenly appears much less perennial. The disruptions of the pandemic have been particularly apparent in education. In the UK, schools were closed or moved online and, almost unthinkably, examinations were cancelled or replaced by algorithms and then teacher predicted grades. As the UK begins to emerge from the pandemic, in education, as elsewhere, the conditions in which we find ourselves are ripe for exploring how things might be different; how things might be better.
Whilst some things may look less immutable, if we look beneath the surface, some things remain depressingly intransigent – this is evident in the global distribution of vaccines, as well as racial patterns in exposure to the virus and in responses to the pandemic (policing, for example). In education, specifically, the negative impacts of Covid-19 have been particularly detrimental for working class students, and students of colour. This was evident in the furore over how examination alternatives will (re)produce inequalities, and the way that the uneven distribution of resources (between schools and between families) have shaped capacities for home learning, exacerbating a ‘learning gap’ or, more accurately, a provision gap.
As we imagine brighter futures, propelled as we are by a sense that things will never be the same again, our task necessitates a focus on systemic transformation with the most marginalised in mind. This is not a question of simply rearranging the furniture but one of dismantling and rebuilding the whole structure.
NME’s call is important for at least three reasons. Firstly, it highlights, and pushes back against, the reliance on punitive and disciplinary responses to crises. Such punitive authoritarianism has been evident not only in schools but at the level of government which – consistent with the direction of travel in recent years – has put policing and ‘law and order’ at the heart of its response.
Secondly, and relatedly, the call is based upon a recognition that in schools, as in wider society, the effects of such approaches have been deeply racialised and classed. That is, a reliance on school exclusions, like a reliance on the police, disproportionately impacts upon working class and racially minoritised communities.
Thirdly, and crucially, NME’s call is important because it brings us to the question of imagined futures. It offers a glimpse of a brighter future, an indication of how we might transform society for the better. Though the call initially focuses on the pandemic period, particularly highlighting the need for care at a time of such monumental upheaval, it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for the permanent abolition of school exclusions: radical long-lasting change beyond the pandemic.
Amongst an abiding sense that things will never be the same again, the conditions seem ripe for social change. Imploring us to keep those at the sharp end in mind, NME’s moratorium shows how communities engaged in resistance can push to ensure that such change transforms, rather than reinforces, the status quo.
Imagining schooling without exclusions points to a more caring and nurturing education system. In this regard, the moratorium call ties in with the work of other campaigns to offer a fuller vision of a transformed education system. For instance, the work of the Halo Collective, a group of young Black organisers ‘fighting for the protection and celebration of Black hair and hairstyles’, points to a future in which school policies no longer discriminate against Black students and other students of colour, and the NoPolice in Schools campaign imagines a future in which schools are supportive environments free from the presence of police officers. Relatedly, the work of young activists at Body Count encourages us to imagine educational futures that looks to transformative, rather than punitive, approaches to justice.
As the Black Studies scholar George Lipsitz observes, ‘domination produces resistance, and resistance plants the seeds of a new society in the shell of the old’. With this in mind, those of us committed to social justice would do well to take these oppositional movements as a springboard for our imaginations.
Remi Joseph-Salisbury is a Presidential Fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at the University of Manchester. He writes on race, ethnicity, racism and anti-racism, particularly in the context of education and policing. He is co-author of the forthcoming ‘Anti-Racist Scholar-Activism’, author of ‘Black Mixed-Race Men’, and co-editor of ‘The Fire Now’. He has also authored and co-authored several reports recently on race and racism in education. He is a member of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, and the No Police in Schoolscampaign.
Stuart Hall, the British-Jamaican cultural theorist, would have been open to and pragmatic about the ideas of the younger generations of anti-racists now in the making.
There are some scholars and intellectuals whose indispensable work one returns to over and over again. For me, as for so many others, it is the late Cultural Studies’ founding father, professor Stuart Hall (1932-2014). For though much of Hall’s rich oeuvre came in response to concerns in the context of Black and anti-racist struggles in his adopted homeland of the UK in a period spanning from the 1950s until his death in 2014, it still feels remarkably prescient and relevant to the present conjuncture.