Heritage and Museums in More-than-human Worlds

This talk formed part of the Drifting Curriculum Summit, held at Art Sonje Center in Seoul on November 15 and 16, 2022.

Panel: Colin Sterling (Assistant Professor of Memory and Museums, University of Amsterdam) & Rodney Harrison (Professor of Heritage Studies, University College London)
Moderator: Juhyun Cho (Curatorial Director of Drifting Curriculum)

The global pandemic, the climate emergency, and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 all heightened the sense that the effects of environmental, racial and social injustice overlap and intersect. Calls for museums to repatriate cultural objects have coincided with protests targeting colonial monuments and widespread discussion of the need to ‘decolonise’ cultural institutions, whilst parallel protests have called upon museums and the cultural sector to abandon fossil-fuel sponsorship and to rapidly decarbonise. While the potential gains to be made from considering these challenges in their mutual relation have been underscored, conceptual frameworks, fora and initiatives capable of sharing and translating this knowledge into practice, policy and society have not emerged to realise these gains, despite demand for their development.

How might we reimagine the roles of museums and heritage in more-than-human worlds? How can museums support action for climate, just transitions, and anti-racist/anti-colonial agendas when they themselves have been central to the colonial project and to the development of progress narratives that have underpinned models of racial inequality, human exceptionalism and ideas of exploitation and limitless growth? What new ways of understanding heritage emerge from a consideration of less valorized legacies of human pasts such as climate change and waste, and in shifting to planetary, more-than- and post-human frames of reference? We will explore these issues with reference to a range of initiatives and ongoing research projects across a number of countries.

Other speakers included Radha D’Souza (University of Westminster) Buhm Soon Park (KAIST Center for Anthropocene Studies) and artist group Unmake Lab