An Anticolonial Museum
8 September – 31 December 2022
Curated by Ana Sladojević, PhD
The exhibition was opened by Jelena Vesić, PhD, independent curator, art critic and theorist, president of AICA International Association of Art Critics Serbia.
In focus of numerous museums worldwide – and in particular those that exhibit African art – is currently decolonization of their work. The Museum of African Art – the Veda and Dr. Zdravko Pečar Collection, with its beginning tightly entwined with the ideas of anticolonialism and nonalignment, managed to open space – throughout decades of its activities – for somewhat different museum representation, especially in comparison with standard museum practice of Western collections.
Bearing this in mind, and relying of previous good practice, as well as numerous collaborations that museum had since its very founding with curators, theorists and artists, this exhibition (as just one part of a far more complex project of Museum reconceptualization), poses a challenge of anticolonial thinking and acting before one Museum in the making, concomitantly marking an end to an era of museum representation.
The concept of an Anticolonial Museum is based on the very history of the Museum of African Art, whose initiators, Veda Zagorac and Zdravko Pečar were active protagonists of the anticolonial struggle – referring here mostly to their engagement in the Algerian war for independence from the French colonial rule, that was ongoing between 1954. and 1962. year.
However, the exhibition is not just a historicization of Yugoslav anticolonialism, although it takes it as a starting point in its reflection. Relying on the MAA work over decades, as well as numerous theoretical and artistic interventions that problematised museum as such, the exhibition strives to trace a possible model of museum work that would rely on anticolonialism understood as an affective heritage of this place.
The exhibition content
The exhibition maps some of the key questions regarding the representation of Africa and African Art, understood within the cultural framework far wider than the Museum itself. Starting from cartographic representation of Africa, through press reports, articles, photographs, drawings, titles, sentences and quotations, it describes different registers within which the image of Africa and African art was created, that concomitantly – directly or indirectly – influenced the image that the MAA puts forward.
Relying on theoretical and artistic deliberation of this concrete Museum, as well as other museums that thematise representation of Africa, three artworks are presented within the exhibition.
Ana Vujović (Serbia), presents her work ‘Unknown African’ (2019), in form of an installation/triptych, that points at erasure of African authorship within Western institutions, telling of the necessity to recognize the corelation between certain stereotypes of a longue durée, and the current realities of social inequalities.
Koštana Banović (Sarajevo-born artist based in Utrecht, the Netherlands), has shot a short film on the MAA, under the title of ’Reading Museology’ (2017), where she re-thinks different eras of this Museum’s life, that have left its permanent display seemingly unchanged. She points as to how important institutional history is for representation of any kind.
Katarina Zdjelar (Belgrade-born artist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands), participates with her work ‘Into The Interior (Last day of the permanent exhibition)’ (2014), consisted of the footage taken during dismantling the permanent exhibition at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium in 2013. It represents an end to an era of museum representation, opening symbolically the space for new models of representation.
Exhibition curator and catalogue author: Ana Sladojević, PhD, independent curator and art and media theorist
Exhibition and catallogue supported by:
City of Belgrade – Secretariat for Culture
Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia
Complementary programmes and activities around An Anticolonial Museum exhibition
2, 9, 16 & 23 August 2022, from 11 to 13h
Workshops: Towards an Anticolonial Museum
As part of the exhibition methodology, during August we organised a cycle of talks under the title of “Towards an Anticolonial Museum“. With an excellent response and an active participation of constituents, questions such as decolonization of knowledge, museum representation of African art, race and racism, were considered. These deliberations will be translated within the domain of re-thinking and imagination aimed at devising what an anticolonial museum could be.
Sunday, 11 September 2022, 11h
Curator-guided tour through the exhibition with Ana Sladojević, PhD
Research Hour (Saturdays, October through December)
Within three cycles of the Research hour, during October, November and December, through talks that take as a starting point a museum or personal object, item, documentation, study collection, media content etc, some of the main issues that are in focus of the current research both directly and indirectly related to this Museum, will be presented.
More information: soon!
21-22 October 2022
International conference – ‘An Anticolonial Museum’
Museums as ideological and political institutions have a strong impact on the formation of ideas about the world and its relations. Aside from actively creating specific discourses, that often stem from inherited imperial and colonial institutional frameworks, museums also enable the erasure and invisibility of certain data, protagonists, and narratives. Although the decolonisation of museum work is primarily understood by the public as the return of museum objects resulting from imperial and colonial conquests to countries of origin, a far more complex issue is the decolonisation of institutional knowledge production.
The Museum of African Art – The Veda and Dr. Zdravko Pečar Collection (MAU) in Belgrade, is an example of decentred museum practice in relation to museums in the West. Opened in 1977, within the scope of non-alignment as a characteristic of Yugoslav international politics, the museum’s foundations were rooted in anticolonial discourse, reflecting the spirit of the times. However, no museum, therefore not even the MAU, is anticolonial in itself. Each museum rests on the paradigm on which museums as the institutions we know today were created – deeply embedded in 19th century imperialism.
Therefore, the conference strives to establish links with the values of anticolonialism, anti-racism and solidarity from the time of the MAU’s founding: not merely for purposes of historicization, but with the aim of posing the challenge of anticolonial thinking before a significantly different institution that has yet to take root in practice.
Conference presentations will deal with research, art and theoretical work, which link museums and heritage at large to the realities of extractive capitalism, institutional racism, as well as the prevailing imperial paradigm, and will also aim to underscore new models of knowledge production.