Colleges and museums are eliminating historically accurate works of art to ‘decolonize’ their collections

Institutions that once condemned the destruction and elimination of art from earlier epochs, now are eliminating such art themselves, in the name of “decolonization.” Even when the art is “historically accurate.”

When Afghanistan’s Taliban regime destroyed ancient Buddhist statues in 2001, because it viewed them as out of touch with Afghanistan’s current Islamic culture, it was condemned by academics and art curators for doing so.

But times have changed. Now, colleges and art galleries are eliminating art from previous eras, purging them in the name of “decolonization.”

The College Fix reports on one example:

What does an institution of higher learning do when it has a “problematic” collection of paintings and sculptures?

Answer: It “decolonizes” them. In other words, it replaces “white settler” works with those by Indigenous/Native/First Americans.

The University of Manitoba currently is engaged in such a decolonization effort, as much of its art collection “depicts Indigenous folks in not really an accurate way” and “glorifies […] white settlers”… For example, a painting by Lionel Stephenson depicts a (white settler) fort on one side of a river, while on the other sits a Native American in front of his teepee.

According to UM junior Jory Thomas, the painting “kind of” shows a “‘We’re over here and they’re over there’ type situation” … there’s no sense of “community and togetherness.”

UM Art Collection Preparator C.W. Brooks-Ip added that the piece depicts “the threat of direct colonization.”

Thomas also has an issue with a sculpture by Thomas Holland which depicts a Native on a horse spearing a buffalo. Although the work is “historically accurate,” it “wasn’t created from an Indigenous perspective of cultural understanding, respect and gratitude for the animal’s sacrifice,” she said.

Thomas claimed the sculpture’s “violent” imagery “perpetuate[s] harmful stereotypes” of Native Americans, and this can lead to a “hostile environment” on campus.

Both Stephenson’s and Holland’s works have been removed from UM.

An art curator says that society may eventually decide that art works from earlier eras should be “burned…down,” according to a news article from the CBC:

For years, art institutions have deliberated on what to do with works that reflect a colonial history — should they be relegated to vaults or reframed with an Indigenous perspective and context as an educational opportunity?

There’s room for both approaches, said Riva Symko, head of collections and exhibitions at Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq, home to the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art.

“We do need to put things away to make space for other voices to be heard and seen. Sometimes we need to put things away because they’re traumatic, because they are harmful … especially to our Indigenous visitors and audiences,” she said. “And we don’t want to instil more trauma on our communities.”

However, she said, artworks can occasionally be reframed or retold from a different point of view, giving a new understanding of them….

Society is going through a paradigm shift, changing how we view our history and looking for new ways of dealing with our colonial past, Symko said. Art can spur conversation and dialogue, she said.

“The future will tell whether we burn them down, or whether we store them away and lock them in the vault, or whether we bring them out and use them for discussion.”

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By GIL