Remy Jungerman, Bakru, 2008, mixed media, 118 x 87 x 15 inches (300 X 220 X 38 cm). Collection National Museum of World Cultures. Photo Aatjan Renders.

This talk by Wayne Modest of the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam takes up some of the more recent explorations of the concept of “worlding” to think about possible futures of the so-called “ethnographic” or “world cultures” museum. For more than three decades now, ethnographic museums—at least those in Europe—have received sustained critique. In its most recent iteration, this critique has congregated around ideas of restitution, repatriation, and more broadly, decolonization. Modest outlines both the main aspects of the critique of ethnographic museums over the last few decades, and museums’ responses to this critique. Despite the challenges associated with ethnographic museums’ roots in colonial history and calls for their closure, he suggests that these museums inhabit an important conjuncture today—precisely because of their histories—and that they hold important material and political potential for imagining a new museum for the future.

27th Annual Iris Foundation Awards
In 1997 Susan Weber created the Iris Foundation Awards to recognize scholars, patrons, and professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of decorative arts, design history, and material culture. Wayne Modest will receive the Iris Award for Outstanding Mid-Career Scholar on April 3. Proceeds benefit the Bard Graduate Center Scholarship Fund. To find out more about the Iris Foundation Awards, visit us online or call 212 501 3071.
Wayne Modest is director of content of the National Museum of World Cultures (a museum group comprising the Tropenmuseum, Museum Volkenkunde, and the Africa Museum) and the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He is also professor (by special appointment) of material culture and critical heritage studies at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.

A cultural studies scholar by training, Modest works at the intersection of material culture, memory, and heritage studies, with a strong focus on colonialism and its afterlives in Europe and the Caribbean. His most recent publications include the coedited publications, Matters of Belonging: Ethnographic Museums in a Changing Europe with Nick Thomas (Sidestone Press, 2019) and Victorian Jamaica with Tim Barringer (Duke University Press, 2018). He is currently working on several publication projects including, Museum Temporalities with Peter Pels (forthcoming Routledge, 2023) and Curating the Colonial with Chiara de Cesari (forthcoming Routledge, 2023). Modest has cocurated several exhibitions, most recently, the Kingston Biennial entitled Pressure (2022) together with David Scott and Nicole Smythe-Johnshon, and What We Forget (2019) with artists Alana Jelinek, Rajkamal Kahlon, Servet Kocyigit, and Randa Maroufi, an exhibition that challenged dominant, forgetful representations of Europe that erase the role of Europe’s colonial past in shaping our contemporary world.