• gerard van weyenbergh

BLM, where are the voices of Museums?

"Dear Museum, why don't you say anything? This is in essence the question put to museum institutions. An intense debate has opened on the reaction of museums to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, which in just a few weeks has become the universal slogan of equal lives.

Where does this interpellation come from? First of a principle that has been affirmed and reinforced in the digital age: the museum speaks. Conferences, debates but also video content, podcasts, and enhanced communication on social networks, a whole series of proposals and interactions have made the museum a talking institution. As such, the museum is today criticized for his silence or the timidity of his voice.

But, based on this criticism, the good news is that there is a social demand for museums, and it paves the way for a redefinition of their role in public debate. This is my theory.

To trace the thread of this request for commitment, we must take into account the differences in reactions between museums versus the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

Some, like the Louvre museum did not react, others in the United States quickly published messages of support and solidarity. The Tate in London put online resources around black artists. The Museum of Natural History and the Musée de l'Homme put up their podcast "We the others". Musée du Quai Branly in Paris set up a conference by African-American academic Cornel West at the time of the exhibition "The Color Line." In Bordeaux Musée d'Aquitaine has joined forces with the Foundation for the Memory of Slavery.

In contrast, others, such as the Center Pompidou, posted a black background during "Blackout Tuesday" on social networks.

There is thus emancipation of variable geometry with regard to the "neutrality" of museums. Neutrality, which is today called into question. The International Council of Museums notably recalled in a forum that museums are not neutral, that they are not separated from the social context, and that when they separate from it, this silence is not neutral, it is a choice, the bad".

The letter from a biracial student at the Louvre School, posted on her Instagram account, has also been widely used in the artistic network, blogs, and specialized journals.

It challenges "museum impartiality" and attacks the silence or the weakness of facade messages "between your potential social action in the public debate and that of L'Oréal, would there be no difference? »She asks.

In this letter, French museums are called upon to share massive amounts of content and resources within a single platform, to provide young people with "intellectual self-defense tools".

At a time of generalized mistrust, the museum, therefore, embodies a point of reference. This is the first lesson of this controversy. But between the responses deemed weak or opportunistic and the absence of responses labeled as disconnection, the museum's word has not yet found its voice. It must also be part of consistency between programming, internal functioning, and communication. It is an enthralling challenge which is launched to the institutions, one of these debates of the "after" which nobody had, it seems, not seen coming.

France Culture