Wednesday, October 21

Five months after Black Lives Matter, museums are shyly emerging from the silence

Paris – Demonstrations and statues of “generous donors” debunked: the anti-racist movement “Black Lives Matter” has pushed museums to question their role and to come out of a form of silence for which they were accused.

Museums are not neutral“, said in June in a forum the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which brings together some 30,000 members. They”have a responsibility and a duty to fight racial injustice (…), from the stories they tell to the diversity of their staff“.

After the death of George Floyd in May in the United States, during a police arrest, the movement “Black Lives Matter“called on many institutions, especially cultural ones, to demand change and better representation.

The Metropolitan and the MoMa in New York split their stands to express “their solidarity with the black community“In Great Britain, the British Museum very symbolically removed from its pedestal the bust of its founder Hans Sloane, who had become rich in the slave trade, and now exhibits it in a display case.

In France, the reactions were more timid and the debate was dominated by the question of the unbolting of statues. This “reveals France’s difficulty in dealing with its colonial past“, considers Françoise Vergès, political scientist and president of the association”Decolonize the arts“.

– Thirst for living museums –

More “audiences thirst for living museums, which tell us a multitude of stories rather than spilling a multitude of variations of the same story“, observes Cécile Fromont, professor of art history at Yale University (United States).

Like the exhibition on the representation of black figures in painting (“The black model“) in Orsay, which attracted 500,000 visitors in 2019.

Some establishments have taken up the subject, such as the Aquitaine museum in Bordeaux which relayed the appeal “to collectively decolonize our museums“. “George Floyd’s assassination echoes loudly“, explains Katia Kukawka, its deputy director, believing that a museum cannot remain neutral on such a subject.

We are not here to play politics, but to take a certain look at society as scientists“Says André Delpuech, anthropologist and director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. He took the opportunity to rebroadcast articles and podcasts relating to the exhibition”Us and the others“(2017), on racism and prejudice.

The Pompidou center also wondered this summer about what “can do culture“in the face of racial discrimination. For its president Serge Lasvignes, the modern art center must mark a break with the”museum-sanctuary“and move away from the history of Western art, with exhibitions like”Global resistance“(until January), with views of artists come”Southern countries“.

– Mirror of society –

If the Louvre has not publicly expressed itself on the Black Lives Matter movement, its management ensures “address contemporary issues and issues“. And recall the existing initiatives, which aim to deconstruct prejudices, such as the visits organized in 2018 by the Lilian Thuram Foundation against racism to the Delacroix museum (under the supervision of the Louvre).

In places of creation, such as 59 Rivoli, support for the anti-racist movement is hardly in doubt, a banner “Black lives matter“being deployed since spring on the facade of the building, in the heart of Paris. An initiative that would not have taken place without the presence of a young artist, herself a victim of racial discrimination, underlines Gaspard Delanöe, co-founder of the place.

Museums are mirrors of society. If in this mirror we see no diversity, there is a problem“, believes the one who defends a policy of diversity to find new artists.

For museum professionals, this is still wishful thinking. “I never had a candidate of color for the curatorial post“, notes Serge Lasvignes, for whom the entrance examination is elitist and would require”real positive discrimination measures“.

Society moves much faster than institutions which remain cautious about this movement“, sums up Françoise Vergès. She recently collected testimonies from dancers at the Opera,”another fortress“cultural, called to break the silence on issues related to racism.

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