Publication: Decolonizing Colonial Heritage

Professor John Oldfield

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

John.Oldfield@hull.ac.uk

This month marks the publication of Decolonizing Colonial Heritage: New Agendas, Actions and Practices in and beyond Europe (Routledge), a major output of the Horizon 2020 project ECHOES. Running from 2018-2021, this project – ‘European Colonial Heritage Modalities in Entangled Cities’ – was led by Professor John Oldfield of the Wilberforce Institute.

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage explores how different agents practice the decolonization of European heritage in a number of different urban settings. Including contributions from academics, artists and heritage practitioners, the volume explores decolonial heritage practices in politics, contemporary history, diplomacy, museum practice, the visual arts and self-generated memorial expressions in public spaces. The comparative focus of the chapters includes examples of internal colonization in Europe and extends to former European colonies, among them Shanghai, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro. Examining practices in a range of different contexts, the book pays particular attention to sub-national actors (curators, artists, citizens groups), whose work is opening up new futures through their engagement with decolonial heritage practices in the present.

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage in divided into three parts. Part I, ‘Haunted Worlds: Ghosts of the Colonial Past’, includes chapters on the multiple imperial entanglements of countries in Europe’s North and East, as well as its West and South; Sam Mendes’ highly-acclaimed film 1917 and the question of imperial nostalgia; an in-depth analysis of Cecil Rhodes’ spectral presence across the landscape and built environment of the campus of the University of Cape Town; African- and Afro-descendent life stories in contemporary Lisbon; and an assessment of another spectral presence, that of the Nigerian-born jazz musician, August Agboola Browne, also known as ‘Ali’, who was apparently the only black participant in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Part II, ‘Contemporary Heritage Practices’, hones in on museums and curatorship, both inside and outside Europe, with case studies from Amsterdam, Shanghai and Warsaw. It then moves on to consider colonial culture’s echoes within visual culture and site-specific art, starting with the Valongo Wharf region of Rio de Janeiro, now a World Heritage Site. Other contributions deal with European settings and events, including the annual Todos festival in Lisbon and the life experiences and working practices of a number of artists currently working in Marseille. The section concludes with a meditation by Meghna Singh on her multimedia, virtual reality installation, Container, which links South Africa’s history of slavery to forms of modern exploitation, prejudice and discrimination.

Part III, ‘Imagining Decolonial Futures’, investigates new decolonial ways of thinking about Europe today and its inseparability from historical entanglements with other countries. Britta Timm Knudsen’s contribution, ‘Decolonial Countervisuality’, offers an experimental approach to decolonial methodology in which she invites heritage practitioners to reflect on the Belgian-Congolese documentary, Faire-part (2019). The second chapter turns to ‘New Diplomacy and Decolonial Heritage Practices’, offering a vision of what International Cultural Relations might look like in a decolonial world. The final chapter links Europe’s historical record of dealing with ‘others’, including European Jews, to recent histories of excluding ethnic minorities located within and beyond the content, not least Muslims. Framed by the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing fallout from the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, it also suggests new ways of imagining an intercultural, transnational and entangled Europe of the future.

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage is edited by Britta Timm Knudsen, John Oldfield, Elizabeth Buettner and Elvan Zabunyan, and includes contributions from Dr Cristina Clopot and Dr Meghna Singh, research fellows at the Wilberforce Institute. Generously supported by the European Commission, the book is available as a free resource online here, as well as in hardback. For further details, see https://www.routledge.com/Decolonizing-Colonial-Heritage-New-Agendas-Actors-and-Practices-in/Knudsen-Oldfield-Buettner-Zabunyan/p/book/9780367569600

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage is one of two books produced by the ECHOES project, the other being Practicing Decoloniality in Museums: A Guide with Global Examples, edited by Csilla Ariese and Magdalena Wroblewska and published by the University of Amsterdam Press (November 2021) https://www.aup.nl/en/book/9789463726962/practicing-decoloniality-in-museums