Rastas, Anna: Museums, artists, and anti-racism

This paper explores museums as sites for research on artists’ and museum professionals’ involvements in anti-racism. In increasingly diversifying societies, cultural and knowledge production in museums inevitably take a stand on issues of racism and anti-racism. In many countries anti-racist interventions and activist projects on decolonizing museums have forced museums to rethink their working methods and exhibition policies. Different types of museums (e.g., art museums, ethnographic museums, on-line and other new forms of museums), and museum work covering a wide range of activities from curating and pedagogical activities to the planning and organizing cultural programs, allow various perspectives to examine anti-racism in museums.

In European societies shadowed by the normative whiteness, nationalist discourses and policies, and overt racism, diaspora artists have become important figures in anti-racist activism. With examples from two extensive ethnographic projects, combined with some insights provided by my earlier studies on artists’ involvements in anti-racism, I will discuss the potential of museums to promote anti-racism. The African presence in Finland action research and exhibition project in 2015 made visible African diaspora artists’ contributions to anti-racism in Finland. During my on-going project, Rethinking diasporas, redefining nations. Representations of African diaspora in museums and exhibitions (2015-2020), I have done field work in museums and exhibitions in different countries in Europe, Africa and the U.S., and collaborated with diaspora artists and activists. These materials, combined with on-line materials, reveal the global circulation of artistic expressions of anti-racism, and make possible comparisons between different societies, different kinds of museums, and different art forms.