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Engaging Dialogues

Reframing Africa at the Royal Ontario Museum

Silvia Forni


This article outlines some recent museological initiatives aimed at responding to the important issues raised by the famous protest against the exhibition Into the Heart of Africa, organized by the Royal Ontario Museum in 1989. Despite the significant temporal hiatus from the historical protest, many of the questions raised in that context continue to be relevant in thinking of ways to engage and present African collections in a mainstream encyclopedic institution. Rather than rethinking a new, more culturally sensitive narrative, I suggest that the introduction of multiple voices and perspectives may be the only way to disrupt the linear authoritative narratives and promote a more significant and affectively relevant engagement with historical collections.

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Silvia Forni

By looking at the numerous small palace museums founded in the Cameroonian Grassfields since the early 2000s, this article interrogates the meaning and function of displays of objects and narratives in the shifting social, political, and economic landscape of contemporary Cameroon. Museums in postcolonial Africa stem from very specific colonial premises, which are still relevant to the understanding of national narratives and displays. However, palace museums in the Grassfields engage in a different and somewhat contrasting use of objects and collections to present a more nuanced and complicated image of local societies. Through their eclectic and non-canonical display, these museums challenge ethnographic taxonomies and linear narratives, while serving effectively as ways to enhance the visibility and prestige of local kingdoms both nationally and internationally.