This fall I will curate an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Windsor, and in my research preparations I have been trying to understand what decolonization can be as a set of actions. As a concept, broadly, decolonization makes space for narratives that have otherwise been silenced through forceful and uneven distributions of power. Decolonization affords legitimacy to different ways of knowing outside of specific circles of cultures, so that, for example, an Canadian who is the grandchildren of immigrants can appreciate the cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada without condescension or appropriation. Decolonization works on two fronts: it creates space for the colonized, and it makes demands of the colonizer (regardless of how near or far the original acts of colonization are to the present moment).

This is my first shot at a working understanding. Here are some others I’ve collected:

  • (of a state) withdraw from (a colony), leaving it independent (Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2004)
  • A decolonizing lens assists in making sense of the contradictory personal experiences of the Indigenous researcher that arise from dual accountability to the Indigenous community and to mainstream Western research site (from Margaret Kovach’s Indigenous Methodologies, pg. 85).
  • The undoing of colonialism, the unequal relation of polities whereby one people or nation establishes and maintains dependent territory (courial governments) over another. It can be understood politically (attaining independence, autonomous home rule, union with the metropole or another state) or culturally (removal of pernicious colonial effects) (Wikipedia).
  • Decoloniality endorses interculturality, (which has been conceptualized by organized communities) and delinks from multiculturalism (which has been conceptualized and implemented by the State). Muticulturalism promotes identity politics, while interculturality promotes transnational identities-in-politics. Multiculturalism is managed by the State and some affiliated NGO’s, whereas interculturality is enacted by the communities in the process of delinking from the imaginary of the State and of multiculturalism. Interculturality promotes the re-creation of identities that were either denied or acknowledged first but in the end were silenced by the discourse of modernity, postmodernity and now altermodernity.  Interculturality is the celebration by border dwellers of being together in and beyond the border (excerpted from the manifesto Decolonial Aesthetics [1]).
  • A constant reworking of our understandings of the impact of imperialism and colonialism is an important aspect of indigenous cultural politics and forms the basis of an indigenous language of critique. Within this critique there have been two major strands. One draws upon a notion of authenticity, of a time before colonization in which we were intact as indigenous peoples. We had absolute authority over our lives; we were born into and lived in a universe which was entirely of our making. We did not ask, need or want to be ‘discovered’ by Europe. The second strand of the language of critique demands that we have an analysis of how we were colonized, of what that has meant in terms of our immediate past and what is particularly significant  in indigenous discourses is that solutions are posed from a combination of the time before, colonized time, and the time before that, pre-colonized time. Decolonization encapsulates both sets of ideas (from Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies, pg. 25).
  • A fundamental component in the mobilization of processes of decolonization is for settler societies to engage in, commit to, and take responsibility for learning colonial histories and understanding contemporary legacies that support and maintain white-settler privilege on stolen Indigenous lands […] Indigenous scholars, artists, writers and activists have been working towards achieving Indigenous cultural, political, and economic sovereignty rights, and it is now time for settlers (scholars, politicians, artists, writers, educators, etc.) to participate, without encroachment or cooption of Indigenous initiatives, within the project of decolonizing dominant Canadian society, its institutions, myths, narratives, and governments (Carla Taunton, as quoted in Decolonize Me, pg. 23).

And now, the question of HOW. How can a process of decolonization be enacted? At the Art Gallery of Windsor, I am working with their collection, which has been amassed over the gallery’s 70 year history. Is it possible to look at the works in a way that performs a decolonization upon the objects? Or, is there a way to encourage a decolonization of the viewer through an encounter with the collection? In practical terms, what would such a project actually look like? This question, very much alive, is what guides my looking as I sift through the trove of materials gathered on Indigenous land in the city of Windsor.


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