Why museums? What for? MuseumFutures Africa explore the opportunities and challenges in museology

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MuseumFutures Africa is a pan-African, people-centred cultural project by the Goethe-Institut that works with museums across the continent to test, explore and study the potential for new formats of African museology. Since 2016, the Goethe-Institut has facilitated multiple cross-continental conversations about the future of museums, and a conversation held in 2021 led to the publishing of Museum Futures. This collection of essays from the publisher Turia and Kant features 30 essays from scholars and thinkers in South Asia, Africa, Europe and South America about the multiplicity of challenges and opportunities that animate the museum of the future.

The essays explore the question: “Why museums? What for?” These questions are intertwined with how we envision our pasts, presents and futures as communities and countries. 

One of the essays in Museum Futures by Molemo Moiloa (South Africa) presents a compelling argument for the African museum to develop itself as a space to nurture relational infrastructures rather than remain defined by values of accumulation and objectification. “Taking from AbdouMaliq Simone’s (2004) concept of people as infrastructure, I argue for a reimagination of the place of the object – repatriated or local – as of value primarily in its potential for the social and relational infrastructures that it might enable. And that in doing so we might completely rethink the role and form of the museum in Africa, and perhaps even begin to conjure the first inklings of what an African museum might be,” she writes.

Her argument compliments the themes in the collection, which asks the reader to think about museums as a medium to contemplate the consequences of globalisation, the continuing presence of the colonial past in different parts of the world, and the relevance of the museum in education, cultural heritage and political and social discourse. 

“There are ways of remembering and memorialising, skills of social practice and imagination that we already have. And these ways offer us localised and pre-colonised strategies that might enable a museum in Africa that is African, but also of the contemporary moment and responding to the urgencies of now. Like Simone’s people as infrastructure, we might look around us at how ordinary life finds its way through the morass of the post-colony, and discover familiar paths forward,” Molemo writes.

The Museum Futures essay collection can be downloaded at https://www.turia.at/titel/zukunft_museum_e.php

Read more about MuseumFutures Africa and their various projects at https://museum-futures.com/

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