Decolonisation: An update on what’s been happening at Bristol Museums

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

by Lisa Graves, Curator – World Cultures and Archaeology

In 2020 we set-up a museum Decolonisation Working Group to direct our ambitions to address racial inequalities in our work. Due to huge internal upheaval over the last two years this work has stalled.  Though resources may be harder to come by in the current environment we must not forget the need for this work. We’re beginning to look again at priorities for the Working Group and the whole museum service. We wish to challenge our ways of working, support more successful collaborations and promote an anti-racist agenda.

Behind the scenes we have continued our work on repatriation and engaging with originating communities. In May 2022 we hosted members of the Siksika Nation who wanted to view ancestral belongings from their community. At the end of last year we welcomed staff from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to Bristol Museum. We’re discussing with them a claim from the Larrakia community, in the Northern Territory of Australia, for the return of a group of weapons. A few weeks ago Brent Kerehona, a Maori historian and educator, visited us to see some taonga (cultural treasures) that belonged to his ancestors. The knowledge he shared will help us improve the way we care for and represent Maori culture to the public.

Our ‘Extinction Silences’ project brings together our environmental and decolonial work. Over two years we have collaborated with young consultants from Rising Arts Agency. Exploring colonial legacies and new ecological perspectives, to improve our World Wildlife Gallery. This work is helping with developing ways of sharing power and partnership with communities, and developing more relevant and inclusive permanent displays across our service.

For over a year we have been hosting artist Jessica Ashman, as part of the Decolonising Arts Institute 20/20 project. The project aims to support emerging artists of colour build closer links cultural institutions. She has been working with curators across all our collection areas to inspire a new commission for the museum. The display of her work is due to open in 2025.

Find out more about Decolonisation at Bristol Museums.

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