Decolonize Museums

Shimrit Lee


We send all orders via Royal Mail: within the UK, choose from 1st Class, 2nd Class or Special Delivery; for the rest of the world, International Standard or International Tracked. Delivery and packaging charges are calculated automatically at the checkout.

To collect orders in person from the Bookshop, choose Click and Collect at the checkout.

OR Books
21 June 2022
ISBN: 9781682193150
224 pages

From the publisher

Behold the sleazy logic of museums: plunder dressed up as charity, conservation, and care.

The idealized Western museum, as typified by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, has remained much the same for over a century: a rarified space of cool stone, providing an experience of leisure and education for the general public while carefully preserving fragile artifacts from distant lands. As questions about representation and ethics have increasingly arisen, these institutions have proclaimed their interest in diversity and responsible conservation, asserting both their adaptability and their immovably essential role in a flourishing society.

With Decolonize Museums, Shimrit Lee punctures this fantasy, tracing the colonial origins of the concept of the museum. White Europeans’ atrocities were reimagined through narratives of benign curiosity and abundant respect for the occupied or annihilated culture, and these racist narratives, Lee argues, remain integral to the authority—and even the aesthetics—of the contemporary museum. Citing pop culture portrayals from Indiana Jones to Black Panther and highlighting crucial activist campaigns to redress the harms perpetrated by museums and their proxies, Decolonize Museums argues that we must face a dismantling of these seemingly eternal edifices, and consider what, if anything, might take their place.

“Shimrit Lee’s provocative and lucid book is part-investigative report where the museum resembles a crime scene and part-polemic that grapples with what it would look like to upend the current ways in which museums are organized and function. Lee makes the convincing argument that museums must fall, and it is time we start taking this imperative seriously.” —Sean Jacobs, founder and editor of Africa Is a Country and author of Media in Postapartheid South Africa

“This book takes us through, and far beyond, the museum as a contested space, raising urgent and complex questions about its future. Through her historically insightful and comprehensive take down, Shimrit Lee asks us to reconceptualize the museum in its entirety. She tears down the facade that museums were ever neutral, tracing their role in shaping, and perpetuating, structures of racial capitalism. Lee shows us that decolonizing museums revolves around creating an expansive sense of justice that moves us beyond its walls. Getting it right, she reminds us, means nothing less than liberation for us all.” — Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Assistant Professor of Black Diasporic Art at Princeton University and author of Black Bodies, White Gold