What If We Decolonised Art Institutions?

BY Katrina Kufer / Jun 19 2017 / 17:30 PM

The Kunstmuseum Basel symposium addresses how institutions could function if they stopped using their own cultures as compasses

What If We Decolonised Art Institutions?
Image courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel

By considering what might be different about museums today if they did not continue to embrace a model built on a supposedly globally prevalent ‘guiding’ culture, but instead sought out for new formats, the hosting institution Kunstmuseum Basel proposes, “How can an art institution be conceived? What might a de-colonised institution challenge?” Entitled Decolonising Art Institutions, the symposium will be a call to action that roots itself in Homi K Bhabha’s notion of a “third space that displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom.”

Collaborating with the Zurich University of the Arts, Dorothee Richter and Ronald Kolb, in cooperation with Søren Grammel, conceptualised the third edition of the symposium. Tackling notions of a globally active art world head on, it will question whether global museums and biennials are as international as they claim to be – or, whether they are only applicable and accessible to those privileged enough to travel. Set to highlight how “a certain perspective of the Western history of art and culture claims primacy over global contemporary art and especially its market,” it aims to instigate a worldwide revamp of an outdated format.

Using the uniform museum appearance – both in model and content – which follows a Westernised template as a preliminary example, the symposium insists that all forms of art institutions in “Western countries” reconsider their methodologies pertaining to curatorial practices, how research is conducted and connections perceived, knowledge dissemination, and creative pedagogy, through to how art practices serve as challenges to current institutional frameworks.

“What people call transculture is culture as it happens. Culture alive is its own counter-example,” states Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, scholar, theorist and critic, in Kunstmuseum Basel’s symposium description. “Transculturation is not something special and different. It is a moment in a taxonomy of the normality of what is called culture. To assign oneself the special task of cultural translation or plotting cultural translation has therefore to be put within a political context.”

The urgent point the symposium strives to convey is that in an age of diversity, globalisation and migration, society and culture are in constant states of flux and re-evaluation, something that museums are not yet mirroring. Part request for direct action, part resistance tactic, and part counter-information platform, Decolonising Art Institutions is an investigation into the processes and functioning of contemporary and academic arts institutions. But whether these museums, foundations, curators, and more, will choose to embrace pluralities and alternative approaches and leave behind long-standing cultural-historical strategies is yet to be seen.

Decolonising Art Institutions runs 20-21 June at Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland. For more information visit kunstmuseumbasel.ch