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June 25, 2024

FocusAdvancing Decolonisation in Museums

In the past year, with the contribution of the expert group established in 2023, ICOM has intensified its efforts toward decolonisation, reflecting a broader movement within the museum sector to address historical injustices and promote inclusivity.

ICOM’s latest activities underscore this commitment through a series of strategic initiatives. ICOM was part of the panel at the UNESCO event “Bridging Cultures – Moving Towards New Perspectives in Museums”. Complementing this, the ICOM Working Group on Decolonisation (WGD) led one of the thematic hubs at our annual meetings in Marseille, dedicated to fostering dialogue and collaboration on decolonisation themes. The recent conference on the ‘Decolonisation of Museums’ featured the members of the working group, where they shared their insights on decolonisation from various perspectives and regional contexts. Additionally, a comprehensive survey has been launched by the WGD to gather data on current practices and challenges faced by ICOM Bodies in their decolonisation journeys. These activities signal ICOM’s proactive stance in reshaping the organisation and promoting a more equitable narrative.

  1. “Bridging Cultures – Moving Towards New Perspectives in Museums” at UNESCO

Rachelle Kalee (Assistant Capacity Building – Museums & Society), Medea Ekner (ICOM General Director) and Christian Kraugerud Søberg (Head of Communications and Public Relations)

ICOM Director General, Medea Ekner participated in the day of exchanges organised by UNESCO on the 24th of May where she shared ICOM’s contributions and objectives regarding Collective Cultural Rights in the Context of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. She highlighted the importance of ICOM’s standard-setting tools such as the museum definition and the Code of Ethics to address the responsibility of museums in protecting and promoting the expressions of the cultures of Indigenous Peoples, including knowledge systems. She also highlighted the role of the ICOM Working Group on Decolonisation in advising the ICOM Executive Board throughout these processes.

View a recording of the event 

  1. The Working Group on Decolonisation in Marseille

The Working Group on Decolonisation also presented two pre-recorded case studies on the opening day of the June meetings in Marseille. The session was introduced by Terry Simioti Nyambe, the ex-officio member of the working group, and concluded by Hanna Pennock, co-chair of the working group alongside Chinedu Ishola Ozueigbo.

To pursue the discussion, the working group was also present at the Thematic Hubs later that day. The interactive setup enabled the exchange of perspectives on decolonisation and the dialogue was initiated from five questions:

  • How would you define the term “Decolonisation” in the context of museums?
  • How does decolonisation relate to your personal life?
  • Do you engage in any decolonial practices or activities within your professional/institutional activity? If yes, how?
  • Which of your professional practices in your work could be decolonised?
  • What do you think about decolonisation of ICOM itself?
Thematic Hub about Decolonisation
  1. Conference on the Decolonisation of Museums

The ICOM Working Group on Decolonisation held two successful working sessions at the Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision – Beeld & Geluid on the 15th and 16th of June. Following these sessions, they spoke at a conference organised by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, in collaboration with ICOM, ICOM Netherlands, DutchCulture, and UNESCO NL, during which they shared insights from their daily practice, presenting a wide range of perspectives.

photo : Phaedra Hui-Shih Fang

View a recording of the conference

  1. Survey on Decolonisation

ICOM recognises the historical role that museums have played and are still playing in the colonising process and is actively dedicated not only to its own Strategic Plan, but to upholding the relevant International agreements, recommendations and declarations, including the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation on Museums, the UNESCO 2005 Declaration on Cultural Diversity, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Through these missions, ICOM aims to contribute to a global forum addressing the challenges and best practices of decolonising museums.

To that end, the Working Ground on Decolonisation would like to invite you to participate in a survey, as part of a mapping exercise on activities and initiatives that committees are already undertaking related to decolonisation. The data from this survey will assist the research of the Working Group in order to fulfil the mandate. We kindly request your committee’s collaboration and input on this crucial initiative by attending one of our meetings either on Monday 26th August 16:00 – 17:30 CEST or Tuesday 27th August from 11:00 – 12:30 CEST.

Register here 

The current survey is addressed to ICOM’s International Committees, Regional Alliances, and Affiliated Organisations. The WGD is currently preparing for the second stage of the consultation by revising the survey to better address the context of ICOM’s National Committees and the wider. NC chairs shall be contacted in the next few weeks regarding their contribution to the survey.

Survey in written form