Decolonizing the art world ask us to question the way that we see and know + what lineages we draw our understanding from.
Living in the wake of histories that inform our present, today I’m thinking about the nature of collecting as world building + colonial narrative making.
The Wunderkammer, cabinets of curiosities, popularised during the Italian Renaissance gave way to the function of museums today - constructing the ‘other’ .
“It signified a diverse, carefully constructed collection of both art and natural and man-made oddities that embodied the era’s thirst for exploration and knowledge…resulting from this voracious period of travel, colonization, and scientific and artistic development as a tool to explore and contemplate this growing cache of knowledge from the comfort of one’s own home”.
In display, there is an inside (white, western, male ) acting as center and an outside, Black and brown culture to be classified, dissected, and made spectacle of.
Display as an exhibition technology creates a barrier between art and everyone else, allowing for the removal of context and enforcing the institution as the dominant author of knowledge.
The V&A, Natural History Museum, and Science Museum were directly born out of this logic, built from the profit off of The World Fairs, of a series of imperial exhibitions displaying the wealth of the British ‘empire’ to millions of attendees between 1851- 1911. Common during the latter part of the 19th and 20th century, these fairs showcased raw materials, goods, products and eventually, animals, miniature models of colonies and people - reinforcing colonial thinking in the public imagination.