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.
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.
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