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Egypt at the Horniman Museum



Only Collections in the Building Podcast series

In January 2024 we launched our podcast series, Only Collections in The Building, part of the AHRC-funded Mobilising Museum Collections for Institutional Change. In the series we share our experience working together on this project and reflect on the way in which our different professional and personal experiences and expertise have informed our approach.

  1. Episode 1: Unpinning Colonialism
  2. Episode 2: I don’t accept Horniman’s gift!
  3. Episode 3: Money! Money! Money!
  4. Episode 4: Missed Translations

Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp (left), Heba Abd el Gawad (middle) and Nathalie Cooper (right) working on the Horniman Egyptian collection for the All Eyes on Her Exhibition in September 2023.

Activists, artists, and indigenous practitioners are being invited to intervene in or disrupt museum spaces with the aim to bring change. But meaningful collaboration relies on much larger structural or professional changes that they rarely have the power to implement. Museum professionals therefore must recognise both that this is the case, and that they have a responsibility as people who are embedded within these structures to navigate, question and challenge them.

There is so much talk about museums, decolonisation, and social justice, but very little that is grounded in the day-to-day work of structural change and how it impacts the people who are relied on to implement it. It is in this everyday work that relationships can breakdown when expectations are not met, misunderstandings arise, and the inherent inequalities of collaborative work within institutional settings are reinscribed.

Rather than having a breakdown, we will ask what it means in practice to put people before collections by sharing our experience working together on All Eyes on Her!, a community-collaborative exhibition at the Horniman.

This series is produced by Maria Christodoulou, creator of From Root to Vine.

Episode 1 uses a packet of scarf pins from the late 1980s to explore how everyday resistance is hidden through museum practice.

We have explored the wider work of All Eyes on Her! and the stories that emerged from unwrapping the pins in more detail in our blog, (Un)pinning (Anti)colonialism, if you want to delve deeper.

We will be releasing 6 episodes in total, each hooked on a moment of tension that we experienced as we worked together. We do this in order to explore wider questions relating decolonial museum practice, collaborative work and its impact on people.

The next episode will discuss the impact of the institutional memory of Frederick Horniman as a generous man, how this emerges silently in organisational procedures, and is repeated uncritically in the museums’ spaces.

Further reading:

Abd el Gawad, 2024. “Strategic Narcissism. A Lived Experience of ‘Decolonising’, Inclusion of and ‘Collaborations’ with Indigenous Researchers”. In D. Ballestero and E. Petschelies (eds.) Collaborative Projects as Means to Transcend Western EpistemologiesZeitschrift für Ethnologie/Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology . Vol. 148 No.2 (2023): 289-304.