MUSEUMS: A NEW DEFINITION.

In the recent past museums outside Africa have come under fiery criticism. There has been increasing pressure for them to change in character and practice.

Liv Wynter an artist who resigned her residency at the Tate put it colorfully when she pointed out “how comfortable they are with surrounding themselves with scumbags in exchange for money”.

On Sept 7th, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) met in Japan to formally ratify a whole new definition; and it is a controversial definition that is 99 words long.

CAUGHT IN THE WEB: Samuel Owusu-Antwi, oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches, 2004. Private collection.

For the ICOM, the modern definition of museums are “democratising, inclusive, and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue”, whose aim is to “contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality, and planetary wellbeing.”

All well and good if it is implemented and not just buzz words that are currently in vogue. Some have characterized the definition as “ideological”.

Others have hailed the new definition as helpful because it acknowledges the fact that museums are not politically neutral.

Courtesy of Edith Taioni, artist.

The anti-fossil fuel campaigner Danny Chivers remarked, “For all the attempts museums make to say: ‘Oh, we’re just presenting objects, artefacts,’ every single decision they make is taking a political stance and has political consequences.”

First, we can all only hope that museums become more inclusive. 

Second, especially for those of us who live in Ghana – we hope that there is at least one well ordered, exciting museum in every region that we can visit to lift up our spirits.

Even though we are not short of scumbags at all, they certainly do not sponsor the arts or museums. 

And will the modern definition encourage them? Only time will tell.

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