Decolonizing legacies, baby steps

Blog, April 2022

Malini Chakraborty, an interdisciplinary artist and media research student at the University of Stirling, has written a blog about her experience of being part of Changemakers, who explore advocacy for South Asian young people and critique museum practice in Glasgow Museums.

On the first session of programme, we were asked what a museum means to each of us, and I decided to create this illustration that denotes all of our individual responses.

Malini Chakraborty

OSCH Changemakers Programme 2022

When decolonizing museums as youth, we realise we are also decolonizing education systems and inevitably our own mindsets. It’s a challenging yet rewarding journey, with the sheer hope that our work would lead to policy changes that diversify our narratives and create a more inclusive world.  

OSCH Changemakers Programme for 2022 started on the last week of January. Every fortnight on a Friday, a group of 14 participants meet at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and usually over a couple of tunes and some tea, we find a safe space to share our intergenerational trauma and hold space for each other to express our thoughts. We explore the museum exhibits and get reality knocks (reality check is an understatement). Often, we can empathise with each other as we see our cultural histories being mostly erased, or worse, misrepresented; ‘A group of lovely misfits in a white patriarchal world’ is how one of the Changemakers decided to describe us.

A group of lovely misfits in a white patriarchal world

Changemaker

Challenging colonial legacies

As we explore just how subtly colonial legacies have been edited out of texts displayed at the museum, some of us get infuriated, while others, like me, hang our heads in shame. We try to grasp what goes on in the minds of the curator who decided to place a huge portrait of a former slave owner next to a small showcase of utensils used by former unnamed slaves. We try to understand why mentioning where certain artifacts come from and how they were curated is often left out when it comes to stolen objects, lest colonisation is mentioned. That’s the part we like to leave out in a country where most of the population boasts of the empire.

Collectively, we are developing a test based on the Bechdel and the Riz tests, to discover if museum exhibits pass our anti-racism check. Our test consists of eight key contributary factors and we aim to present this in our exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum later this year.

Exploring our cultural histories through our food and recipes

Alongside developing this test, we are also exploring our cultural histories through our food and recipes that have been passed down through generations and are treated like heirlooms in South Asian families. 

Imagine if scientists ever thought that ‘Right, the best way to solve a problem is not confront it with dialogue and action, but leave it to sort itself out.'

Changemaker

Indigenize and decolonize

Legacies of dehumanisation has its real-world impacts even to this day that each of the 14 participants have faced in some way, thus creating a will to discuss the very tangible manifestations of these racist mindsets and take collective action to change it. We often say that the work we do will make any racist person extremely uncomfortable and one of the Changemakers had a lovely thought to share in response to this. They said, “Imagine if scientists ever thought that ‘Right, the best way to solve a problem is not confront it with dialogue and action, but leave it to sort itself out’” 

The work we are doing is very emotionally challenging since it is personal, intellectually intensive and can sometimes drive us to hopelessness and despair, but we are hopeful about the future. On 8th April 2022, The National reported that the largest reparation of museum items in Scotland was agreed by the Glasgow City Council with artefacts to be returned back to India, Nigeria, and Native Americans. When this news was shared in the group, all fourteen of us had a little virtual celebration for we knew for a fact that the work we are doing right now is not going to be in vain. 

All artwork: Malini Chakraborty