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Decolonize Museums

Shimrit Lee

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Behold the
sleazy logic of museums: plunder dressed up as charity, conservation, and care.

The idealized
Western museum, as typified by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British
Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, has remained much the same for over
a century: a uniquely rarified public space of cool stone, providing an
experience of leisure and education for the general public while carefully
tending fragile artifacts from distant lands. As questions about representation
and ethics have increasingly arisen, these institutions have proclaimed their
interest in diversity and responsible conservation, asserting both their
adaptability and their immovably essential role in a flourishing and culturally
rich society.

With Decolonize
, Shimrit Lee punctures this fantasy, tracing the essentially
colonial origins of the concept of the museum. White Europeans' atrocities were
reimagined through narratives of benign curiosity and abundant respect for the
occupied or annihilated culture, and these racist narratives, Lee argues,
remain integral to the authority exercised by museums today. Citing pop culture
references from Indiana Jones to Black Panther,
and highlighting crucial activist campaigns and legal action to redress the
harms perpetrated by museums and their proxies, Decolonize Museums argues
that we must face a dismantling of these seemingly eternal edifices, and
consider what, if anything, might take their place.