The Museum of European Normality: colonial violence, community museums, and practices of display

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The Museum of European Normality (2008) is an immersive piece of installation art by artists Maria Thereza Alves and Jimmie Durham. The work is composed of maps showing migration patterns across Europe, images from books, magazines, videos, and other forms of documentation. Though presented as a serious study with facts and data, the installation is in fact a caricature of today's museums. In this manner, the work offers visitors a dislocated narrative of a museum experience by inverting the roles of object of display and spectator and by rendering visible uneven power relations implicit in the very act of display, an act that mostly employs the grammar of the coloniser. The immersive installation opens up the question of social justice within methods of display, teaching us that colonial violence may be contained in the very way of exhibiting. Against the backdrop of the framework introduced by this work, this paper provides an analysis of community museums in Latin America. I argue that these spaces have, over the past 50 years, articulated a variety of decolonial methods of display, which respond to the local communities' right to self-determination instead of to inherited colonial vocabularies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-668
Number of pages20
JournalMuseum Management and Curatorship
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2021

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