Reimagining how we see ourselves: decolonisation and the arts

 

Alison Guzmán

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What is the role of art and cultural heritage when it comes to decolonizing philanthropy? Why is it important to freely access our cultural patrimony in these changing times?

The public is increasingly learning online and interfacing with digital forms of cultural heritage. Hundreds and thousands of images are saved and downloaded for safekeeping, telling stories, and sharing collections. As access to digital products become readily available, the question remains at hand: How should the masses learn about the colonial contexts and decolonial potential of knowledge when accessing information?

Our platform MHz Foundation Curationist addresses major ideas and themes that are of particular interest philanthropists, including: Reflecting the world’s diverse heritages, traditions, and histories while asserting the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life; bringing the perspective of the humanities to questions of racial justice, gender equality, the evolution of the political landscape, as well as our place in the world; and developing an innovative approach to preserving historical record while directly incorporating the knowledge and experiences of place-based and other under-represented communities. We are part of an emerging digital culture creating a critical role in reframing education by trying to build tools that create opportunities for self-representation.

Our online systems are becoming ever more accessible and inclusive. Access to cultural heritage and patrimony is of immense value to educators, scholars, students, artists, and arts enthusiasts, as well as the general public. Increasingly, communities are sharing stories of their marginalized and colonized pasts. As a philanthropic and investor network, creating cultural access to a broad public interested in place-based knowledge and patrimony will grow awareness of the need for free, transparent, equitable, and dialogic information about the globe’s cultural heritage. It is for this reason that at the heart of every mission is a need to address the inequities and colonial impulses that undergird Western museum interpretations that are no longer in service to sustainability on the planet.

Too quickly and too often, art history and cultural knowledge- and all that comes with them are shunned and ignored, or otherwise deemed irrelevant, out of touch from the realities of the world. Too often, philanthropic endeavours address hot-button global issues without considering how cultural knowledge – particularly knowledge produced by those whom global issues such as epidemics and climate catastrophe affect most deeply – allows us to reframe our understanding of the world we share. Linking our causes and investment to community-led creative paradigms (many of which are in danger of disappearing, if they are not revitalized) shows us solutions to real-world problems that would otherwise go unnoticed.

What, then, is the proper role of those interested in fostering the accessing of cultural heritage in decolonizing philanthropy? How can they approach their works in ways that guarantee authenticity, diverse perspectives, reclaim narratives, and enhance land-based knowledge?

Community-generated knowledge can teach students, scholars, entrepreneurs, creatives, and visionaries about critical digital literacy, Indigenous data sovereignty, and intercultural dialogue. It can do so across disciplines and languages. As humans continue to deal with the state of the world today, Global North /Global South, digital divide, climate migration and refugees, war, and pandemic, to name a few the sharing of cultural heritage is a visceral reminder of our remnants of humanity to ‘create’. In creation, there is a solution. It is these knowledge systems that contain the essence of placing humans and ‘Earth others’ at the centre of decision-making processes, including that of philanthropy.

Curationist.org is interested in doing this by inviting users to actively engage with scholarly content and open education resources on our website. Our mission holds us to address these core principles for the digital humanities:

  1. The need for Open Access to digital images and data at cultural heritage institutions.
  2. The need to represent ‘traditional’ cultures with respect, dignity, and equity.
  3. The need for revising and reclaiming narratives from dominant Western cultural institutions.

Yes, we recognize that digitization and wide access across the cloud is a tremendous feat and exponentially increases the opportunity for sharing cultural heritage and enriching humanities research and learning. Digitization, and mass-digitization in particular, which promise vast and thrilling accessibility, also bring another round of acute decontextualization, wherein objects are sought, found, and screenshotted with incomplete, incorrect, or disrespectful titles — or no metadata at all.

An organization like Curationist.org is geared to become a primary source for verified Open Access digital materials. Our collections of searchable and usable archives of art and cultural heritage objects from around the globe have vast educational potential and applications for the public. Heritage accessible through Curationist acknowledges and promotes the inherent sovereignty that communities have over knowledge and data that comes from their lands, territories, and waters.

Decolonizing Philanthropy should be more than just decolonizing transactional processes and shifting who is on top. It should be – and it can be – about reimagining how we see and hear ourselves and others.

To truly say to one, other than the likings of our own, I ‘see’ you.

Alison Guzmán is the Director of Development of the MHz Foundation.

Tagged in: Decolonising philanthropy


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