Many museums find themselves in a complicated period of transition as they confront their entanglements with colonialism. That complex project was the subject of a recent Harvard Center for African Studies workshop on the future of Africa-based curatorial practice hosted at the Harvard Art Museums.
“This is a unique time, when questions about restitution, reparation, and collection-sharing of African historical art and artifacts globally, and on the state of curatorial practice on the continent, are being interrogated alongside a booming contemporary art scene that has the promise to reshape narratives about Africa through African voices and perspectives,” Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, the Oppenheimer Faculty Director at the Harvard University Center for African Studies, said as he kicked off the event.
Akyeampong, who also serves as the Ellen Gurney Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, said that there’s a growing call for a “continent-wide dialogue around the visual arts, archiving, curatorial practice, conceptual strategies, art criticism, cultural heritage protection, and more.” The workshop was hosted by the Harvard Center for African Studies and co-sponsored by the Harvard Art Museums, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art.
Ciraj Rassool, a senior professor of history at South Africa’s University of the Western Cape, and Koyo Kouoh, executive director and chief curator of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, spoke about the impact of colonial legacies and restitution on Africa-based curation. Rassool works in Africa and Europe, teaching museum and heritage and curatorial studies. He also teaches at TheMuseumsLab, an enrichment program that includes 25 African and 25 European curators working together in Germany and South Africa.