Museums, Photographs and the Colonial Past

Event Date: 
Thu, 12/01/2012 - 14:00 to Fri, 13/01/2012 - 18:30
Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford




Museums, Photographs and the Colonial Past


This conference examines the politics, poetics and ethics of the photographic visibility of the colonial past in museums in multicultural societies and the construction of postcolonial identities. It will explore the use of photographs in public narratives of difficult histories and examine different sets of problems and approaches across a number of European countries. It raises questions not only about the patterns of engagement, nostalgia, suppression, disavowal and unspeakability which cluster around representations of the colonial past, but questions about the role of photographs in the public space. What is the work expected of photographs? Is the apparent immediacy of the past in photographs too direct and uncontrollable to be accommodated in the carefully managed spaces of state multiculturalism?  What is the role of the artist’s intervention, digital environments, and community projects?  Are there ’safe spaces’ where the colonial might be addressed? Ultimately what kinds of narratives are museums constructing and for whom? How can the complexities of colonial relations be represented in museums and do photographs help or hinder?


The conference is part of the European-funded PhotoCLEC project, an international collaboration of scholars from the UK, The Netherlands and Norway. (see: The conference will include the launch of the project’s web resource.


Keynote Speakers:

Professor Benoît De L’Estoile (CNRS)

Dr Wayne Modest (Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam)


Other Confirmed Speakers include:

Professor Susan Legêne (VU University, Amsterdam), Professor Sigrid Lien (University of Bergen), Professor Elizabeth Edwards (DMU), Miranda Pennell (Filmmaker, Goldsmiths College, University of London), Dr Chiara de Cesari (University of Cambridge), Dr  Sabine Cornelis (RCMA) and Dr Johan Lagae (Univeristy of Ghent).


Fee: £35                                                  Symposium Dinner: c.£32 t.b.c

Places are limited. Please contact Mandy Stuart ( to reserve your place.