RE-DEFINING POWER: Contemporary Conversations on the Role of Museums in Re-writing Histories

#4 RE-DEFINING POWER: Contemporary Conversations on the Role of Museums in Re-writing Histories

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Thursday 27 August 2020
5 pm CEST

  • Malgorzata Ludwisiak, CIMAM Board Member, Independent Art Critic, Curator, Ph.D., Warsaw, Poland
  • Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, Director of the institution formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
  • Wandile Kasibe, Public Programmes Coordinator of the Iziko Museums of South Africa, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Sethembile Msezane, Multi-award-winning Artist, Masters in Fine Arts, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Moderated by Ernestine White-Mifetu, CIMAM Board Member, and Director of the William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley, South Africa.


In the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd in the United States, arose a national and global call for justice to end the victimization and killing of black and brown people. Global movements such as BLACK LIVES MATTER and RHODES MUST FALL have been at the forefront of the current wave of protests calling out in their masses for a global reckoning of historical wrongs that continue to impinge on individuals and communities across all levels of contemporary society.

With this as its backdrop, museums and cultural institutions have been called upon to be proactive players in the call for change – to assist in correcting the skewed narratives that have for far too long left only one side of the story told, prompting renewed debates over the ethics of representing and glorifying (in the form of a public sculpture), a singular historical narrative of national identity and heroic leadership.

Colonial histories, notions of power and privilege, racism and the violence experienced by black and brown bodies are crucial subjects to define a discourse on historical politics and to provoke changes in the symbolic field. How should Museums and cultural institutions respond to these unprecedented global movements? How should Museums respond to the call to serve as custodians of these symbols of empire and oppression? How might the concept of decolonization contribute to the process of redefining the notion of history, memory, commemoration and the museum practice?

Malgorzata Ludwisiak, Ernestine White-Mifetu, Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, Wandile Kasibe and Sethembile Msezane will talk about their recent experiences and challenges in the artistic and museum field and engage with the possibilities of imagining different models and modes of representing and interpreting histories, memories and collections.


  • Against the backdrop of the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) protests to end institutionalised racism and the brutal killings of black and brown bodies across America, protests on the prevailing legacies of injustice that still plague our society also took place in public spaces in the US spilling over to a number of European countries. Ernestine White-Mifetu
  • The Rhodes Must Fall movement began as a response to the colonial figure of Cecil Rhodes, which was in a prominent space at the University that sought to produce African leaders. So how could we critically engage with this problematic figure? We needed to address structural issues and generate a necessary conversation and dialogue in a society that would pressure the University to remove the statue, and through that, we would address the issue of colonialism and symbolism in institutionalized racism. Wandile Kasibe
  • What symbols do we put in public spaces, and what do they mean for the people who exist in those spaces now? How do we make our identity make sense and that we are humanized in the spaces we are in? Because most of these spaces were appropriated by white people especially in an African context; so how do we move in these spaces where the ideology is still very colonial? Sethembile Msezane
  • The removal of statues is a symptom of a much deeper global crisis, and the discussion about what kind of representations should replace them is, for us as museum directors and curators, interesting both in terms of what it means for a museum and how it can remain relevant in the face of this crisis, re-prioritizing its missions and programmatic practices. Malgorzata Ludwisiak

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