Paul Basu will present at the seminar in Indigenous Arts in Transition on Wednesday, March 16, at 6 pm. His talk is entitled “Museum Affordances: Colonial Collections, Decolonial Possibilities.”

What do museums and their collections make possible? How can we activate these latent possibilities? Through such activation, can archives and collections assembled in the context of colonial scientific expeditions contribute to the project of decolonization? Over the last four years, we have been exploring these questions through an extended experiment in museum methods. Thinking with James Gibson’s concept of “affordance,” we have been examining how the possibilities perceived in collections change over time and context. Working with a remarkable assemblage of artefacts, photographs, sound recordings, botanical specimens and archival documents that constitute the material legacy of a series of anthropological surveys in West Africa in the early twentieth century, we have sought to understand what these things were perceived to afford historically and what they might afford today for different stakeholders and communities. This talk provides an introduction to the work of the Museum Affordances / [Re:]Entanglements project.


Paul Basu is currently Visiting Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University College London. He was previously Professor of Anthropology at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, and Professor of Anthropology and Cultural Heritage Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Paul has long-standing research interests in the spatial and temporal dynamics of material culture and memory, including the intersecting journeys of people, things and narratives of the past. He has conducted extensive research on the history of anthropology and anthropological collecting, and the value of historical ethnographic collections for different stakeholders and communities in the present. For many years the regional focus of his work has been in West Africa. Paul’s books include Highland Homecomings (2007), Exhibition Experiments (with Sharon Macdonald, 2007), Museums, Heritage and International Development (with Wayne Modest, 2015) and The Inbetweenness of Things (2017). He has curated several exhibitions, including [Re:]Entanglements: Colonial Collections in Decolonial Times, currently on display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, UK. He recently led the multi-partner Museum Affordances research project.


This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 4 pm on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.