NEOCOLONIAL COLLABORATION: Museum as Contact Zone Revisited

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ABSTRACT

Museums have increasingly been promoting their postcolonial status through inclusionist programs in exhibitions, shared curatorship, and use of collections. Where there are indigenous stakeholders, we have seen an unprecedented improvement in the empowerment of source communities in the management, use, and presentation of their patrimony in museums. Since James Clifford's 1997 essay, the phrase “contact zone” is now more or less synonymous with these inclusionist, collaborative programs. This paper, while being openly supportive of such collaborations in museums, is nevertheless critical of the use of the contact zone concept. Returning to Clifford's essay, as well as those of Pratt and others, this paper questions why museum scholars perpetuate only a partial portrait of the contact zone, despite clear warnings about its inherent asymmetry. The goal of this paper is not to undermine the ethically engaged work that has been done, but to expose the dark underbelly of the contact zone and, hence, the anatomy of the museum that seems to be persistently neocolonial.

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