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Decolonize This Place activists in the third-floor Egyptian galleries (all images by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

Simultaneous to today’s protest at the RISD Museum, activists from Decolonize This Place gathered at the Brooklyn Museum to protest the objects in the museum’s collection acquired by past imperial conquest.

The organization has protested at the museum on numerous occasions, adamant that its administration establish a “Decolonization Commission.” An organizer with Decolonize This Place, Amin, said as the activists prepared to enter the museum, “This action, in a way, is a reminder to the museum. It lays out what the museum has yet to respond to, which is why we’re here.” He explained, “This is about us being present and delivering a message. It’s really not a protest.” Amin called the banners they had prepared an extension of the shows on display, saying they were art in conversation with the exhibitions.

The group first entered the museum’s top floor, the entryway to the expansive and well-received exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.

The front of the handout disseminated at today’s action (courtesy of Decolonize This Place)

“Our action today begins in the galleries of the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, surrounded by works of militant beauty from the 1960s and 70s,” the organization wrote on flyers they disseminated through the galleries. “From Betye Saar to Emory Douglas, the Black Arts movement was crucially concerned with the connection between the liberation of Black people in the United States with the histories, cultures, and anti-colonial struggles of Africa. It is with this powerful exhibition as a backdrop that our gathering sets out to make visible a violent legacy that runs through this institution.”

They began the action by unfolding their first banner in a room of assemblage works by artists including Betye Saar and Noah Purifoy. Organizers gathered in a circle and began reading their day’s mission from the handout and offering their own testimonials. An early Friday afternoon, there were a number of school groups meandering throughout the galleries.

“Colonial plunder is a perfect example of the misuse and disrespect of artworks,” one Decolonize This Place member explained to the group in their quiet discussion.

Initially, gallery security seemed confused, but soon after, senior security staffers entered the gallery to confront the collective. They asked the banners to be folded and taken out of the gallery and said they required permission from the museum to move forward with an action of this manner. “This is completely not related to what we have here,” one guard said. A visitor services employee arrived, and the organizers and staffers continued to debate. As they did, patrons asked members to see copies of their flyer.

Arguing the banners were art, the protesters held the banner against one participant’s back, to the disdain of museum security, and walked toward the front of the gallery to exit. A visitor services staff member escorted Amin downstairs to discuss the museum’s regulations for hosting protests.

One Decolonize This Place member, Amy, told Hyperallergic that such a reaction from security during organized actions was not uncommon. She says the group understands that the hired security are told to stop anything that might disrupt the art, but says their intention was not to be disruptive. “This is an education thing for us as a group, and also for the people around us who are curious.”

The group walked through the remainder of the Soul of a Nation exhibition. When they entered the third-floor exhibition of Egyptian artifacts, they began to unfold their banners once again, but after a longer stretch of time than their initial attempt, five security personnel entered the gallery and asked them to desist. They exited the museum, handing out flyers on the way, in the café and throughout the lobby.

Amin returned from his discussion with visitor services just as they were being asked to fold up their banners once again. He told Hyperallergic that he met with two visitor services staff members, who, “communicated how they’re supportive and it’s an uncomfortable position.” He says they tried to contact Brooklyn Museum administration but were unable, instead forwarding them a letter from Decolonize This Place.

Hyperallergic has not yet received a response from the Brooklyn Museum.

Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture. She received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies...

4 replies on “Decolonize This Place Demands Repatriation of “Imperial Plunder” at the Brooklyn Museum”

  1. Kudos to our brothers and sisters in the USA. We are facing same institutional racism from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Canada. A Canadian museum world famous for its anti-black racism.The ROM has a 10,000 piece African Art collection plundered from Africa and stored in its basement. We want our ancestors art to breathe FREE. Black Canadians want our ancestors art works to be liberated from its white prison in the basement of the ROM. We want ROM to partner with Black Arts community to create a new Black owned home for our ancestors arts work. We want our ancestors art repatriated to Africa where possible and the rest repatriated to Canada’s black community.

  2. How ridiculous. European and American museums saved the heritage of the world’s cultures. The locals have ALWAYS been the ones to destroy the culture of their ancestors. It is why cities are built on the ruins of other cities, even when there are no conquerors involved. Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, etc. all tended to disassemble and reuse their ancestors’ assets for their own civilizations with few exceptions. It is only the Europeans and North Americans that followed the Greek model of setting aside the past in special, protected sanctuaries for future generations to learn from. I agree that as much as half of the artifacts in world museums should be returned to the descendants of the original cultures that created them…as soon as they can secure them in their own museums. Of course, nobody should be taking antiquities out of their sites today unless it is with the permission of the local governments to save the artifacts from ISIS et al. Given the destruction of museums, antiquities, sacred sites, and so on throughout war-torn areas of the world in the last twenty years, the world should be thanking the museums of the Western World for saving their heritage. Heck, even the French, in Paris, which is largely one big museum, are having a hard time protecting their heritage from the vandals of 2019.

    1. There U go again…Claiming that ONLY White people preserve their past. Fool no one worships and revere ancestral artifacts than Black people. Even today We are constantly in touch and beseeching our ancestors to intervene in this dimension to defeat the evil deeds and intentions of Neanderthal Caucazoids. The People of Kemet ( Egyptians built pyramids a form of museums to preserve artifacts of the past. to claim that deviant homosexual Greeks who the Kemetic black people civilized was the ones who lead the way in terms of setting aside the past is just more Euro-centric horse $hit.

      1. Where to begin…first off saying “white people” is racist. You write off the many different cultures that are part of my heritage. They are as different from each other as they are from cultures throughout the world. That kind of stereotyping us the very thing that is so reviled when aimed at African and Mesoamerican cultures. The pyramids were portals to eternity, never meant to be seen or appreciated by anyone. They are lined with curses for anyone who disturbs them. Egypt was preceded by Sumer and was populated by both European, Mediterranean, and African people after the end of the last ice age. The black people of Cush were ruled by the Egyptians until the last part of Egyptian history before the Persians, Greeks, and Roman’s came to rule Egypt. The Cushite Pharoahs ruled Egypt for a very short time in the last intermediate period. Go to WikiCommons and look up the actual mummy portraits and you of the first through third century Egyptians if you want to see the true ethnicity of the Egpyptians.

        The local cultures everywhere robbed and desecrated them for thousands of years. By the time the Europeans got to the Middle East and Africa, most of the artifacts were destroyed repurposed. Again that is true of ancient European cultures as well. They disassembled their own history for reuse while collecting artifacts of other artifacts, most of which were abandoned or sold by the locals. That artifacts of history were saved is wonderful. Museums and libraries are Greek inventions instituted by Alexander of Macedon before 230 BCE, from Europe to Africa throughout Persia, India, and Afghanistan. Jihadists and tribal warlords today routinely destroy or sell their artifacts. Those countries that can protect, preserve, and display their artifacts should have them returned but should also share them with the world in traveling exhibitions where possible. Egypt has an excellent record of full partnership with European, Asian, and North American museums. The developing nations whose history has been preserved by European and North American owe a huge debt of gratitude to them.

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