Mending Presence

A treatise on decolonial museum practices with an emphasis on spatial reconfiguration.

Design + Research
March 7, 2022
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Mending Presence

This project was supported by Boston University's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in 2022.

Museums are, by nature, colonial institutions. The public museum emerged in the 16th century as the private collections of colonists be-came acquired or confiscated or donated. The ‘public’ museum has not changed much since then. How can a 16th century institution hope to be relevant to today’s public? It can’t. Museums are important. They have the capacity to provide wonderful opportunities for exploration, growth, and learning for everyone. They are the places that are most primed to become thriving arenas of public discourse, collaboration, and meeting.

However, the museum has not adapted to its audience; it remains a colonial institution. It is becoming increasingly irrelevant because it has failed to adapt, because it is trapped within the sphere of private interests, not public ones. Ethical problems are usually labeled as either care-based or rules-based.However, neither of these framings are particularly relevant to the museum. Therefore, we should adopt a new ethical framework: space-based ethics. Space is so powerful and yet, so overlooked. Of the case studies that are explored later in this document, not many looked at architecture as a tool for decolonial intervention. Those that did look specifically at the built environment were, arguably, the most effective examples of de-colonial practices. Space-based ethics believes two things: firstly, it acknowledges both the objective reality of our built environments and the subjective experiences within those built environments. Secondly, that we can intentionally change our built environments to encourage people to be more welcoming and compassionate towards others. If we look at museum architecture with a de-colonial lens, we can design meaningful interventions that pragmatically combat the colonial legacy of museums.

Below you can find the full essay including original illustrations.