Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa

By Shelley Ruth Butler

© 2007

Contested Representations examines the controversy surrounding the Into the Heart of Africa exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto in 1989-90. The exhibition was meant to travel to the US and Canada, but four major museums cancelled their contracts due to its controversial nature.

With this richly textured account of the ways in which the exhibit became the site of an expansive—and explosive—discussion of representation, racism, and power, Butler asks why the exhibit failed for so many people. In the process she discusses issues of curatorial authority, institutional politics, legacies of colonialism, traditions of representing Africa, the politics of irony, and reflexive museology. The combination of race, postmodernism, colonialism, community activism, and heated debate still leaves the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit in a class by itself. It continues to be cited, debated, and used as reference points by Africanists, art historians, museologists, cultural anthropologists, and historians.

Originally published in 1994, this case study is now available in an affordable paperback edition with a new Foreword by Anthony Shelton (UBC Museum of Anthropology) and an Afterword by the author outlining recent ROM practices in relation to the Black community and in representing Africa.

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Product Details

  • Series: Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 176 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.4in x 9.0in
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SKU# HE000074

  • PUBLISHED SEP 2007

    From: $26.31

    Regular Price: $30.95

    ISBN 9781551117775
  • PUBLISHED APR 2013
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Quick Overview

"A gold mine for teaching and the rarest of ethnographic studies, Butler's study carries us into the heart of one of the most divisive cultural firestorms to ever hit museums." - Jeffrey Feldman, New York University

Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa

By Shelley Ruth Butler

© 2007

Contested Representations examines the controversy surrounding the Into the Heart of Africa exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto in 1989-90. The exhibition was meant to travel to the US and Canada, but four major museums cancelled their contracts due to its controversial nature.

With this richly textured account of the ways in which the exhibit became the site of an expansive—and explosive—discussion of representation, racism, and power, Butler asks why the exhibit failed for so many people. In the process she discusses issues of curatorial authority, institutional politics, legacies of colonialism, traditions of representing Africa, the politics of irony, and reflexive museology. The combination of race, postmodernism, colonialism, community activism, and heated debate still leaves the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit in a class by itself. It continues to be cited, debated, and used as reference points by Africanists, art historians, museologists, cultural anthropologists, and historians.

Originally published in 1994, this case study is now available in an affordable paperback edition with a new Foreword by Anthony Shelton (UBC Museum of Anthropology) and an Afterword by the author outlining recent ROM practices in relation to the Black community and in representing Africa.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 176 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.4in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    A gold mine for teaching and the rarest of ethnographic studies, Butler's study carries us into the heart of one of the most divisive cultural firestorms to ever hit museums. The result is an insider's view of an exhibition as it shapes the lives of real people—forcing them to confront the legacy of colonialism and changing how they see the world and each other.


    Jeffrey Feldman, New York University

    Shelley Ruth Butler's meticulously researched case study helps us to understand why Into the Heart of Africa, the Royal Ontario Museum's attempt to deconstruct its own history of colonial collecting and exhibition, failed so disastrously—and also why the aftershocks of the bitter controversy that surrounded it continue to be felt throughout the international museum world. Butler's narrative makes for a gripping read, and it offers a sensitive and balanced analysis of the complex interaction of curatorial practice with race politics outside the museum and institutional politics within. This model study is a cautionary tale for those who produce public culture in our increasingly multicultural world. It should be required reading not only for students of museology, public history, and cultural studies but also for museum and heritage professionals.


    Ruth Phillips, Carleton University
  • Author Information

    Shelley Ruth Butler is an anthropologist and research fellow at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. She has written numerous articles on the politics of museum exhibitions and on tourism in South Africa.

  • Table of contents

    List of Illustrations

    Foreword by Anthony Shelton

    Acknowledgements

    I. Entering the Debates

    Reading the Royal Ontario Museum
    Coming into the Field
    Museum Ethnography
    Looking Ahead
    Final Notes on the Forum

    II. Into the Heart of Africa and the Status Quo

    The Status Quo
    Toward a Reflexive Museology
    Re-presenting Imperialism: A Personal Walk Through the Exhibit After the Fact
    Museums Will Be Museums

    III. Prelude to the Controversy

    The Ambiguity of Irony
    Power Relations and Public Culture
    The Politics of Consultation

    IV. The Coalition for the Truth about Africa: Strategies and Challenges

    Performing Resistance
    The Politics of Contestation
    Experiences of "Otherness"
    Democratizing Museums
    A Counter Text: The CFTA Pamphlet
    Contradictions of Resistance
    Racism and Multiculturalism: Articulating a Contradiction  

    V. Various Positions: Responses to the Coalition for the Truth about Africa

    Beyond Into the Heart of Africa
    Authority at/of the ROM
    Classroom Confrontations
    Media Conclusions: Radicalizing the CFTA
    The Academy and Complex Subject Positions
    The Black Community: "Protest and Process"
    Victims and Victimization
    Other Voices at the ROM
    Outcomes

    Afterword: Canonizing an Exhibition, Renovating the ROM

    Appendix: Coalition for the Truth about Africa Pamphlet

    Notes

    References

    Index

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