Article by Lyndsey Beutin in Cultural Studies, Vol. 28, Issue 4, 2014.
This article analyses three twenty-first-century reinstallations of African objects in the United States and South Africa that use gallery space to explicitly address and symbolically redress an institutional history of problematic representations of Africa, and by extension, of blackness. Each project has updated its interpretation to reflect black cultural studies scholarship that emphasizes dynamism within diasporas and attempts to intervene on the ways that museums produce knowledge. While each institution has used its African displays to engage local black communities, this paper inverts the notion that appeals to ‘the community’ are intrinsically anti-authoritative and that objects are necessarily static by suggesting the reparative potential in objects and the paradoxical logic of authenticity that undergirds the museological turn to community. Drawing on gallery observations, interviews and visual analysis, the particularities of each approach reveal that it is not the specific curatorial techniques – whether object-based or community-focused – but the relationships encircling those strategies that mediate reception. Offering a museological window into ongoing discussions of how cultural producers/curators and the audiences they presume/produce interface, these case studies signal the centrality of trust to reparative projects and to transforming social relations within the museum and beyond it.