Stolen Memories: Museums, Slavery and (De)coloniality – a Summer Graduate School, Middleburg- The Netherlands, July 2015

Selected for the research summer school that provided a specifically Latin American, African and diasporic approach to decolonial theory. There are 29 other students in this class, local students from the Netherlands as well as students from Brussels, Mexico, France Brazil, Colombia, Rwanda, South Africa and the USA.


Stolen Memories: Museums, Slavery and (De)coloniality – a Summer Graduate School

week 1: Decolonial Aesthesis, Decolonial interventions



 “Decoloniality appears in-between modernity/coloniality as an opening, as a possibility of overcoming their completeness. Decoloniality refers to the variegated enunciations springing from global-local histories entangled with the local imperial history of Euro-American modernity, postmodernity and altermodernity.”- Walter Mignolo

Modernity is a system of representation that hides a totality that is only possible on the foundation of exclusion, a eurocentricism that is a confinement oof modernity, in that it confines how we see the world. Modernity thus comes with its assumptions and aversions- the violence that is colonialism. In our quick celebratory rhetoric of modernity, we implement the logic of coloniality- because there is no modernity without coloniality. Coloniality is a constitutive of modernity. Through the celebration rhetoric we make assumptions, such as : history is linear, there is one history and it is fact, history is evolution and development. "Modernity is a local history turned into global history and thus presents itself as universality."

Thus when we speak about decolonial we are not in a stage of post-colonial, nor should we seek such a state- as it is a direct response to the pervasive logic of colonial design. What Mignolo suggests is a decolonial approach which argues for, as Subcomandante Marcos from EZLN says, “a place where many worlds can exist”. A place of multiplicity of knowledge, practice and being in the world- to decolonise what has been normalised. It is a methodology (not method) that seeks to stop western knowledge around non-western objects, which in so doing relegages the knowledges of that particular group and makes western representation THE only representation through fact (and semantics).

Allow me to at this point offer some examples. I went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

In the picture above references are made through 'trade' - which clearly negates the description that trade included humans through systemic slavery. The rhetoric is primarily on the idea of kindomhood, of modernity - rather than the undercurrrent of the same concept: colonialism and slavery.  Modernity and Colonialism are two sides of the same coin, with one side discussed more than others. 

As part of the course we also visited the slave archieves here in Middleburg, the documents of Dutch ships: 

The woman working at the archives mentioned that despite the Dutch partaking in the slave trade, it was illegal to trade slaves in the country of the Netherlands, thus implying that such did not occur. Thankfully one of the other students (who is part of a Dutch research team that is looking critically at the Dutch role in the slave trade) interjected to share that as per their research there is clear evidence that this is the dissociation the country tries to present but that there was in fact ample evidence of such occurring. 


Decolonial as option

Decoloniality states modernity is one way to see the world. It is a European phenomena in a dialectical reltionship with non-europe. The decolonial is an option, as it is a move from the definative and thus is an option in ideology and philosophy. I will talk about decolonial art as methodology in next week's update but for now some foundational thoughts:


Aesthetics vs Aesthesis

“To decolonize aestheTics means to delink from the 'universal' mirage of a local experience.”-Walter Mignolo

The first day was dedicated to decolonial aesthesis (note, aesthesis not aestheTIcs).  The decolonial aesthesis is a movement that names and articulates practices that challenges the hegemonic of modern/colonial. “Decolonial aestheSis starts from the consciousness that the modern/colonial project has implied not only the control of the economy, the political and knowledge but also the control over the senses and perception. “Modern aestheTics have played a key role in configuring a canon, a normativity that enabled the disdain the rejection of other forms of aesthetic practices, or more precisely other forms of aestheSis, of sensing and perceiving.”

AestheTics has thus become an aspect of the colonial matrix of power, of the imperial structure of control that began to be put in place in the sixteenth century with the emergence of the Atlantic commercial circuit and the colonization of the New World, and that was transformed and expanded through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and up to our days. Aesthesis on the other had provides a radical critique  to  the aestheTics and, simultaneously, contributes to making visible decolonial subjectivities at the confluence of popular practices of re-existence through the arts.

What Mignolo suggests is that the term aesthetic is a concept that now belongs to the sphere of philosophy, whereas aesthesis to language in general, and in any language. Thus aesthetics is the modern/colonial normality to the colonized senses and aesthesis becomes the critique and artistic practice that aim to decolonize the senses “to liberate it from the regulations of modern, postmodern and altermodern aestheTics.”


Examples of aesthesis

We had a wonderful talk by artists and activists Jeannettte Ehlers and Patricia Kaersenhout.. A particular highlight was Jeannettee’s  work that deals with the transatlantic slavery route, called ‘whip it good’ She has toured the piece internationally and as part of the performance invites audience members to come and also participate.


Where too?

“Epistemology creates ontology”

Aesthesis is not so much about the artist tools applied, but the politics of the work. What is it trying to do? How does it honour silenced memories? How is it resisting?

We might know that there is a western knowledge – we might even have to reference it- but it doesn’t mean we have to think from it. How are spaces of critical consciousness developed within a hegemonic structure? How does this duel consciousness emerge, maintain itself and challenge? ? Thus the decolonial aesthesis attempts to liberate aesthetics. To de-link. In so doing, we are creating a movement of decoloniality, for "naming coloniality is an epistemic disobedience move."