Sarah Jilani at the TLS:
The questioning of long-held beliefs and understanding of the full histories behind institutions should have positive repercussions for everyone. But as the Brooklyn, Liverpool and Birmingham cases highlight, decolonizing cultural institutions is not straightforward. Their attempts suggest that the key issue at this early stage is a lack of understanding about what decolonizing an institution means, and what it entails. A genuinely decolonial approach would see museums interrogate their positions as apparently objective caretakers of non-Western objects and artefacts. The assumption of Western objectivity is not only divorced from the material conditions in which those objects have come to be “owned” by Western knowledge – knowledge informed by a history of contact on unequal terms – but it also instantiates the exceptionalism with which Western cultures have felt entitled to the final, objective say on other cultures. By acknowledging this, and then pursuing new roles and missions, institutions could take a number of concrete steps, such as repatriating objects where feasible, especially if they were plundered from peoples for whom they sustain cultural value; embracing greater accountability towards their local communities; and consider the colonial and racial legacies informing their operations and governance.