CAB and SASI Protest Cultural Theft on Indigenous Peoples’ Day
by Chinatown Art Brigade and South Asia Solidarity Initiative. Posted October 16, 2018.
In our continuing coverage of the groundbreaking work of the Chinatown Art Brigade (see related East Wind ezine article “Chinatown Art Brigade: Social Practice, Cultural Resistance, and Defying Displacement” by Diane Wong), we present to you the following statement by CAB and the South Asia Solidarity Initiative. Over 1,000 people participated in the takeover of the American Museum of Natural History on October 8, 2018, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Under the theme of “Decolonize This Place,” protesters set up displays and banners in various galleries and pointed out examples of racist and culturally misleading representations of people of color.
Today on Indigenous Peoples Day hundreds of us took over the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, an action organized with Decolonize This Place and dozens of other groups. Decentralized and spread out all over the museum. Chinatown Art Brigade 唐人街藝術隊／ 唐人街艺术队 and South Asia Solidarity Initiative took over the Asian Peoples Hall. We covered dozens of exhibition pieces with banners and put posters (of soldiers) throughout the Asian People’s Hall to represent the way in which our cultures and these works were stolen – through violence, colonization, racism, imperialism and militarism that and dispossessing people from our own land. We call this section. “Looting of Asia”. #decolonizethismuseum #decolonizethisplace #renametheday Thanks to all those that joined in the action today!
Our statement we read at today’s action: If we are going talk about dispossession and decolonization then we must acknowledge the land that we are on is Lenape land. We ask everyone in this room to continue making, naming, and centering spaces of support for Indigenous people and communities who live and have lived here before us.
The so-called Asian People’s hall displays only a small fraction of the museum’s collection of nearly 60,000 cultural artifacts plundered in the early 1900s during colonial expeditions to Asia. Every single object that we see here is stolen – stolen and plundered from the temples, halls, pavilions, palaces, parks, and forests that many of our ancestors have once called home. With their expressed goal of reconstructing life in Asia before European contact, this vision ignores the violent history of US warfare and continued coercive American military occupation of Asian nations. Without historical context, these exhibits normalize Western views of our cultures as steeped in patriarchy, caste systems, and backwardness when in reality the roots of our cultures are rich, vibrant, and resilient.
We can no longer allow this to happen. Chinatown Art Brigade and South Asia Solidarity Initiative stand here today to ask you to decolonize this museum hall with us so that it no longer is a ground of colonial stewardship and violence. We demand that museums like this one acknowledge its role in systematic racism and as a continued colonial project. The museum must make the true origins of every single object we see here fully transparent for display. These exhibits should explicitly depict the true history of what we’re seeing here – a history of US and western imperialism, institutionalized white supremacy, sexual violence, and plunder in the guise of exploration and scientific anthropology.
The thousands of young people who visit this museum every year are exposed to this degrading reinforcement of white supremacy, and they are taught to view the world and even their own ancestors as primitive caricatures frozen in time. We can no longer allow this to happen. The museum we stand of inside today and all museums must begin the process of repatriation of these objects to the peoples from which they were stolen. We know they have ample resources to do this and we will hold them accountable. Decolonization requires us to reclaim and reimagine what this space could look like when it is created for and by us. Together we will decolonize this museum and all cultural institutions.
Tomie Arai, a member of the Chinatown Art Brigade, shares the full statement of the Decolonize This Place coalition in her FaceBook post: The Chinatown Art Brigade and South Asia Solidarity Initiative demand that the American Museum of Natural History acknowledge the provenance of thousands of stolen objects that are displayed in the Hall of Asian Peoples. To read the public letter to the AMNH, written by Decolonize This Place on Indigenous People’s Day, (aka Columbus Day):
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