Questioning heritage : colonial ideologies in contemporary museum practice.
Draper, Jessica Lindiwe.
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The research problem to be explored in this study is to what extent colonial ideologies continue to influence museum society and contemporary museum practices. The museological display of non-Western, and specifically African material cultures will be investigated. This study will enter into a dialogue with the construction of the ‘Other’, both in a colonial context and within museological paradigms. The evolutionary nature of culture and heritage will be emphasized, with particular prominence given to the dangers of exhibiting cultures as static and objectified. The Exhibitions Congo. The Colonial Era (Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren) and Zulu heritage: the history and culture of the Zulu people (Msunduzi Museum, Pietermaritzburg) are used as case studies, as both displays raise questions of appropriation and the display of ‘Other’. These exhibitions are analysed and then contextualized within existing museological research. Current debates located in post-colonial discourse, notably those of Edward Said, are discussed in relation to the display of African material culture. In discussing museum exhibitions and readership, the writings of Hooper-Greenhill and Kaplan are considered. An understanding of heritage is generated in relation to the theories of Lowenthal. The paper concludes that by combining a ‘contrapuntal’ (Said) view of the histories surrounding an artefact, with the acknowledgment of the viewer’s lived experience in accordance with Reader-Response criticism, one would create a basis from which the viewer could begin to question and engage with cultural representations of the ‘Other’.