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Decolonize Museums

Decolonize Museums

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Behold the sleazy logic of museums: plunder dressed up as charity, conservation, and care.

The idealized Western museum, as typified by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, has remained much the same for over a century: a rarified space of cool stone, providing an experience of leisure and education for the general public while carefully preserving fragile artifacts from distant lands. As questions about representation and ethics have increasingly arisen, these institutions have proclaimed their interest in diversity and responsible conservation, asserting both their adaptability and their immovably essential role in a flourishing society.

With Decolonize Museums, Shimrit Lee punctures this fantasy, tracing the colonial origins of the concept of the museum. White Europeans’ atrocities were reimagined through narratives of benign curiosity and abundant respect for the occupied or annihilated culture, and these racist narratives, Lee argues, remain integral to the authority—and even the aesthetics—of the contemporary museum. Citing pop culture portrayals from Indiana Jones to Black Panther and highlighting crucial activist campaigns to redress the harms perpetrated by museums and their proxies, Decolonize Museums argues that we must face a dismantling of these seemingly eternal edifices, and consider what, if anything, might take their place.


Shimrit Lee is a writer, educator, and curator based in Philadelphia. An interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersection of visual culture, performance, and critical security studies, Shimrit’s research interests relate to the cultural production of security narratives in Israel and the U.S. She holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from NYU, and teaches high school social studies as well as community-based adult education at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

Bhakti Shringarpure is a writer, academic and founding editor of Warscapes magazine. She is the author of Cold War Assemblages: Decolonization to Digital and a regular contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books and Africa is a Country. She currently runs the Radical Books Collective which pushes for an alternative, inclusive and non-commercial approach to books and reading.


Title: Decolonize Museums
Publisher: O/R Books, 2022
Editor: Bhakti Shringarpure
Author: Shimrit Lee
Format: Paperback
Size: 296 pages
ISBN: 9781682193150


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