Marie-Laure Allain Bonilla

Talk: Decolonizing the collections? Some theoretical and practical aspects.

Fr. 6th of Oct. at 6 pm. Room No 6.K04,
Postgraduate Programme in Curating, ZHdK


This talk departs from an apparently naïve question – “is it conceivable to decolonize the collections from Western museums of modern and contemporary art?”– which is in fact grounded on observations from tangible changes of paradigms in the museum field. These observations focus on some of the largest Western museum’s collections, picked either because they are located in former European colonial countries (the Londoner Tate Modern, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the musée national d’art moderne in Paris) and/or because they launched programs that are substantially changing the way their collection is built (the Tate Modern, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Guggenheim Foundation). The talk will explore, successively, the shortcomings of the theoretical and the practical aspects of decolonization in the context of museums in order to highlight the difficulties these institutions are facing today regarding the construction and the reworking of their collections in a decolonized perspective.

Trained in curatorial studies, Dr. Marie-Laure Allain Bonilla specializes in the history of exhibitions—her PhD dissertation highlights an untold history of the uses of postcolonial theories by curatorial practices in contemporary art since the 1980s. Her primary research concerns museum acquisition policies in the global era and the possibilities to decolonize institutional practices through collaborations, both in the West and in former colonized areas. She has published on subjects such as the biennial phenomenon (particularly the Johannesburg biennale), on museum and curatorial studies, as well as on contemporary art practices challenging Western prerogatives. Apart from working on a book based on her PhD dissertation, she is currently coediting a book of collected papers for an international conference she co-organized in 2015 at the University of Rennes 2 on feminist, queer, and decolonial subjectivities in contemporary art. Allain Bonilla has taught at University of Rennes 2, where she was involved in the Curatorial Studies M.A. program, and in January 2016 she joined the University of Basel for her post-doctoral research. She is a member of the Global Art Prospective program at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) in Paris.