This post goes outside the direct activity of the UWI Museum, into the wider museum community of which we are part, spotlighting an activist perspective on the work of museums, libraries and archives that was recently brought to a Jamaican audience.
The time was August 17, the 126th anniversary of the birth of international activist and Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey. The place was the Garvey Great Hall at Liberty Hall in Kingston, Jamaica, amidst a Garvey Centenary travelling exhibition developed in 1987 by the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture in the USA; now donated to Liberty Hall. The event was the annual Garvey lecture during which former Schomburg Director Howard Dodson Jr, now Director, Moorland-Springarn Research Centre and Howard University Libraries, argued museums, libraries and archives to play an activist role in liberating minds from the mental slavery of colonialism.
Liberty Hall, whose focus is the Garvey legacy, is part of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) system.
Dodson noted the mental and cultural as well as economic aspects of European colonisation, which destroyed structures and symbols important to the self-understanding of enslaved and colonised people. The result was a destruction of their history – an argument that has been passionately made by writers like Aime Cesaire and Albert Memmi in the 1950s. In place were put the religion, museums and other cultural, administrative and economic structures that underscored the idea of white superiority.
Dodson therefore argued that museums, archives and libraries should be at the forefront of on-going efforts to recapture elements of Black history and experience, as part of a continuing decolonising effort. And he argued that lingering reminders of the colonial enterprise should be replaced. He said that collectors like Arturo Schomburg, Rev Jesse Moorland and Arthur Springarn had understood the need for documentary evidence as a basis for Black people writing themselves back into history.
It is interesting to note that the University of the West Indies, established in the late 1940s, itself emerged out of the decolonisation enterprise. Issues of imperialism, decolonisation, regionalism and nationalism are all relevant to the history and development of the university which is the on-going focus of the UWI Museum.