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A Postcolonial Museum of the Present

TitleA Postcolonial Museum of the Present
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsVergès, F.
Secondary TitleMuseums and the Web 2008. Proceedings
Conference Start DateApril 9-12, 2008
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedMontreal, Quebec, Canada
EditorTrant, J., & Bearman D.
Keywordscreolization, immaterial culture, postcolonial

In 2010, a museum and cultural center, Maison des civilisations et de l'unité réunionnaise, will open on Reunion island, Indian Ocean, in a park of 22 hectares overlooking the ocean. Reunion is a small island, uninhabited when it was colonized by the French in the 17th century, whose society has gone through two centuries of slavery, a century of colonialism and barely sixty years of postcolonial democracy. Colonialism erased the material traces of the lives of slaves, indentured workers and poor settlers who, despite the brutality of colonial order, created a rich, complex, and very diverse immaterial culture marked by the processus of creolization. In the the scientific and cultural programme (2005), Françoise Vergès and Carpanin Marimoutou revisited the status of the object, suggested a "museum without a collection" and a reinterpretation of the past from the issues and demands of the present. They argued for a space that would not divide nature and culture but would reintegrate, through the inclusion of gardens in the museum, the role and function of landscape, its history and mutations as actors of the imaginary. They started with these principles : the colonial past is revisited to elucidate current problems; the visitor is invited to empathize with the infinitesimal personal experience, to apprehend larger historical forces and to suggest alternatives for development. They argued the island is set at the crossroads of six worlds: African, Chinese, European, Hindu, Malagasy and Muslim, in an ocean where millenary routes of exchanges have constructed numerous contact-zones. Making creative use of multimedia and new digital technologies, Vergès and Marimoutou argued for a non-linear interpretation which invites the visitor to interact with what she sees, and suggests other meanings for events, rituals, things and objects. The museum will also bear witness to the rise of new cultural, religious and artistic expressions. It offers a space for thinking social transformation through the intersection of local, regional and global issues. Vergès and Marimoutou proposed a postcolonial museology that seeks to shift the point of view, to help meaning arise where it is not expected. The recognition of differences and diversity, the will to reduce the asymmetries of power will help work towards creative solutions in the fields of art, research, and crafts. The architects are X-TU from Paris, France. On Reunion, the MCUR team is now realizing the scientific and cultural program. They focus on immaterial culture, itineraries, the metonymic figure of the traveller, on the itinerary as a mediating tool, and on the organizing principle of creolization as process. The space is the Indian Ocean, and the temporality Reunion's. The demonstration will present the project in its multiple elements. The objective is to engage with similar projects and contribute to the debate on the postcolonial museum of the 21th century.