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December 6, 2019

Conference “Museums do not need to be neutral, they need to be independent”

As CIMAM and ICOM have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for many years now, Suay Aksoy, ICOM President, was invited to contribute to CIMAM annual meeting.

CIMAM has held its Annual Conference untitled “The 21st Century Art Museum: Is Context Everything?” from November 15 to 17 hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, with a successful attendance of over 200 participants and the appointment of its new President, Mami Kataoka, and new Board.

During the opening speech, Suay Aksoy focused on the independence of museums :

“The conference organised by CIMAM asks an important question: is context everything? As the topic suggests, museums exist in a wide variety and rapidly-changing historical, cultural and local contexts. Museums have two dimensions that make them of extreme relevance regarding the profound social changes the world is currently undergoing. On one hand, they play a scientific role in regards to cultural heritage. They do so by providing frameworks based on rigorous scientific and academic research.

In consequence, they are one of the most trusted institutions in our societies. As per a recent study, even above newspapers and governments. Our voice matters – and that comes with a tremendous responsibility which requires the highest standards of professional practice.

Meanwhile, on another hand, museums are not neutral. They never have, and never will. They are not separate from their social and historical context. And when it does seem like they are separate, that is not neutrality – that is a choice. Choosing not to address climate change is not neutrality. Choosing not to talk about colonisation is not neutrality. Choosing not to advocate for equality is not neutrality. Those are choices, and we can make better ones.

To accomplish their missions and serve to the betterment of societies, museums do not need to be neutral. »

During the Populism and Censorship panel, she pointed out that the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums also includes several dispositions that can be instrumental in providing museums and museum professionals with a framework to deal with censorship, notably for Article 4.2 to Ensure the accuracy of facts presented and the various narratives and Article 1.16 to Protect museum personnel from top-to-bottom censorship.