Black Woman Museum Activism “From Inside”: Theorizing a Twenty-First Century Decolonization Movement Within the Colonial U.S. Museum

Fabiola J. Vatel, Claremont Graduate University


What are the constitutive features of a transnational African women contemporary visual artist resistance movement from inside the colonial U.S. museum? How are accomplished women contemporary visual artists, from different countries within the continent of Africa, yet currently based in the U.S., returning the gaze on American museal culture? How should the woman black Atlantic audience respond to the museum institution’s efforts to reframe its colonial legacies? Considering these research questions, I argued that when women contemporary visual artists from Africa are afforded the space to exhibit their artwork in the colonial U.S. museum, they return the gaze on colonial museum culture, advocate for themselves, other African artists, and as a result, the traditional colonial U.S. museum could potentially reframe its identity, transform into a dynamic site for sustained political activism, and become a more equitable space to feature artistic expressions from other non-white perspectives.

This qualitative study grounded in critical postcolonial feminist theory drew from extant cultural studies and museum studies literature to elucidate how successful black Atlantic resistance movements are traditionally mobilized by activists who have closely analyzed white supremacist ideology from inside systemically oppressive institutions, by means of white insiders initially granting them that access. It employed a method of psychoanalysis to theorize how transnational African women contemporary visual artists who were granted access to exhibit in colonial U.S. museums can potentially harness their institutional agency to mobilize a resistance movement from inside the institution.