The Decolonial Initiative came to be formed after a Teach-In on Decolonizing the Museum organized by Ariella Azoulay (MCM/Comparative Literature), Yannis Hamilakis (Archaeology/ Modern Greek Studies) and Vazira Zamindar (History) in Spring 2019 at Brown University. This initiative seeks to bring together two trajectories of migration which are thought of as unrelated and usually studied separately by scholars from different disciplines in the humanities, arts and social sciences. The first (often forced) migration is that of objects that generate professional care, scrupulous documentation of a certain kind, generous hospitality in museums and archives, and occasional public display. The second is the (often forced) migration of people, who do not have, or will be unable to obtain particular kinds of documents without which they are banned from access to most kinds of care and hospitality, and from rebuilding their homes and worlds.
The project is based on the assumption that these two movements and patterns of migration are not unrelated, as existing research implies. In order to account for the way they are related, one needs to question first the order of knowledge that separates the study of these objects and people – the study of art, objects, museums and material world in the first case, and the study of politics, economic and human geography, and census in the second case, and disciplinary boundaries that sets them apart. We argue that this constitutive separation emerges from imperial conceptions of space and time and the goal of this project is to decolonize this separation, and delineate a radically different framework for the study of people and objects together, so that it can begin to be envisaged – so that it can be a model for others as well. By affirming the connection between people who choose to or are forced to leave their homes and run away from structural inequality and from political regimes in former European colonies, to the precious objects from their countries that traveled to the West before them and became converted into objects of art, legally acquired and possessed, we can restitute another way of rebuilding our world in the age of debilitating and de-historicizing anti-immigrant politics.