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Decolonising the Cultural Institution?

A Critical Intervention into Discourses of Decolonisation in the Cultural Sphere

CCLPS Postgraduate Conference
Thursday, 15th and Friday, 16th June 2017

Lucas Lecture Theatre / DLT Lecture Theatre (Main Building)

Rooms B111 and B102 (Brunei Gallery)

SOAS, University of London
Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG


We are grateful to the CCLPS at SOAS for hosting this exciting event, and delighted to invite you to attend this year's postgraduate conference. Watch this space for more details about the keynote speakers, programme of events and film screening.

Debates over postcolonialism and its relevance have exhausted themselves over recent decades, and discussions of decoloniality and ‘epistemic disobedience’ offer fresh opportunities to interrogate colonial legacies in our everyday and to examine the geopolitics of knowledge production. Protest movements around the world have rightly taken aim at institutions such as the university, the museum or the cultural archive, to scrutinise the Eurocentric and (neo)imperial underpinnings of their origins and practice. Questions over ownership and appropriation often form the substance of this debate, with more open processes of restitution or the inclusion of non-European figures typically being proffered as the solution by institutions.

At a time when more scrutiny is being paid to cultural institutions, a moment of critical reflection is imperative: What does it mean to decolonise a cultural institution, particularly one whose very raison d’être is inherently enshrined in the colonial project? Is it possible to reform such institutions from within or should alternative structures be sought to converse with them? Who gets to define what shape these processes of decolonisation might take, and what are the power dynamics involved in this? How do issues of class, gender, religion, race, language and (hyper)nationalism intersect with processes of decolonisation in the cultural sphere? And what might be the role of cultural and artistic production in driving this kind of change?

Decolonising the Cultural Institution?, this year's postgraduate conference from the SOAS Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies invites graduate and post-graduate students to interrogate what processes of ‘decolonisation’ might mean in the contexts of the production, dissemination and consumption of cultural practices, as well as for processes of knowledge production and the assignment of value onto ‘art’. We anticipate papers which explore: the politics of aesthetics and the aesthetics of politics; the financial contingency of artistic production; the politics of representation; processes of erasure, inclusion and exclusion; challenges to existing power relations and hierarchies; and the role of nationalism. Cultural Institutions might include but are not limited to museums, gallery spaces, art venues, publishing houses, libraries, archives and the university. Funding bodies, patrons, sponsors and other cultural producers are also of interest, as are further interpretations.

For more information, please see the Facebook page or the SOAS event listing. The conference is free and welcome to all! To register please click here Eventbrite. Contact email:

*** The Conference will be LIVE STREAMED at the following sites:

15th June, 09:00-18:00

Apologies to all who are watching the live stream. The link above has now finished but you can see the next session (from 3.45) using the following link:


16th June, 10:15-18:00

To comment, interact or ask questions during the livestream, you can use this link

Picture Credit: Claude Lazar,  Exhibition Installation, 2015, reproduced 
Vanessa Opoku – Africa Bling Bling Hakuna Matata
Photograph © GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig
Removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town  |  Photograph © Desmond Bowles


(For a full list of abstracts, please click here



Day 1: Thursday, 15th June, Lucas Lecture Theatre (DLT) (Main Building)


09.00 - 09.30    

          Registration Tea & Coffee


09.30 – 09.45  


          Welcome and Opening Remarks

          Professor Francesca Orsini, CCLPS Chair

          Lauren Pyott, Frances Grahl, Yan Jia (Conference Organising Team)


09.45 – 11.45

         Panel 1: Decolonial Discourses and Cultural Contexts: A Critical Overview

                       Chair: Yan Jia

         1. Nine Eglantine Yamamoto-Masson: Art as Modern Missionary Mission and Inequity in the Attention/Profit Economy of Art

         2. Denise Clarke: What Else Can They Do? World Picturing And Decolonial Aesthesis At Sharjah Biennial 11

         3. Lauren Pyott: ‘East East East’ and Decolonial Labour Pains: When a New Cultural Cartography is Not Enough

         4. Flair Donglai Shi: A Failure to Decolonise the Literary Prize: the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Politics of Recognition   


11.45 – 12.45

          Keynote Speech

          Dr. Rolando Vázquez (University College Roosevelt, Utrecht University)

          "What Does It Mean to Decolonize?"

12.45- 13.45

           Lunch: Sandwiches Served

13.45 – 15.45

           Panel 2: Practical Manifestos and Radical Ideas: Methods for Decolonising the Cultural Institution

                         Chair: Aakriti Mandhwani

           1. Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan: A Manifesto: Decolonising the "Postcolonial Theory and Practice" course

           2. Jack Clift: Historical Fiction against History? Reading Hindi and Urdu in Post-Partition India

           3. Ayesha Fuentes: Cultural detritus, conservation ethics and contemporaneity

           4. Sayan Bhattacharyya: Categorical order makes the heterogeneous less visible:  Scaling up in digital text repositories

15.45 – 16.00

           Break: Tea & Coffee

16.00 – 18.00

           Special Discussion: Decolonising Pedagogical Practices at SOAS

           On the day that the SOAS Academic Board meet to discuss decolonising within the institution, you are invited to an open discussion about methods for decolonising practices at every level of the institution.


           With presentations by:

           1. Alex Mason, Sheffield: Cultural erasure in the university space

           2. Smita Yadav, Sussex: Academic precariousness, Hierarchies, and Colonial Pedagogy


           Chair: Frances Grahl

           Speakers from the SOAS community (TBA)


18.00 – 18.30

           Break: Light Refreshments

Day 1: Thursday 15th June, Room B111 (Brunei Gallery) 

18.30 - 21.00

            Film Screening: ‘Rati Chakravyuh’ (Ashish Avikunthak, 2013)

            Followed by an open discussion on decolonising practices in film led by Sumedha Chakravarthy and Chinmay Sharma, chaired by Yan Jia.  


Day 2: Friday 16th June, Room B102 (Brunei Gallery)


10.00 - 10.15

           Registration: Tea & Coffee


10.15 - 11.15

            Keynote Speech

            Professor Anthony Downey: (Birmingham City University)

            "Neoliberal Visions: Cultural Institutions and the Political Economy of Global Culture in the Middle East"


11.15 - 13.15


            Panel 1: From the Inside Looking Out? Positionality and Decolonising in Museums and Exhibitions

                          Chair: Lauren Pyott

            1. Sara Wajid, Charlotte Holmes, and Subhadra Das: Is it possible to decolonise museums from within?

            2. Clair le Couteur: Decolonising, Non-Binary Research and the Fictive Museum

            3. Laura Vallés: The Potosí Principle: How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

            4. Grit Köppen: Anti-colonial Legacies of Ethiopian Artists and their Critique on European Cultural Institutions


13.15 - 14.00


            Lunch: Sandwiches Served


14.00 - 16.00

             Panel 2: An Alternative Cultural Toolkit for Decolonisation

                           Chair: Chinmay Sharma

             1. Sumedha Chakravarthy: ‘Another museum, Another History’: Tracing the de-colonization of authorship in Indian Documentary Cinema

             2. Frances Grahl: From the Text to the City: The Novel as a Decolonising Tool

             3. Carol Que: Speculative Homelands in Larissa Sansour’s Video Essays

             4. Davinia Gregory & Maya Oppenheimer: Collaboration and Solidarity Among Junior Academics as Methodology for Decolonization in the Art School – Case: The Royal College of Art


16.00 - 16.15

              Break: Tea & Coffee


16.15 - 17.45

               Roundtable Discussion: Lived Realities and Reality Checks: Hopes and Fears in Decolonising the Cultural Sphere

               Chair: Lauren Pyott


               1. Teresa Cisneros (Curatorial Fellow at Showroom Gallery)

               2. Nur Sobers-Khan (British Library)

               3. Olivia Windham Stewart (Museum of British Colonialism)


17.45 - 18.00

               Closing Remarks


18.00 - 19.30

                Drinks Reception


Keynote Speakers

Rolando Vázquez

Rolando Vázquez is assistant professor of Sociology at University College Roosevelt (UCR) of Utrecht University in The Netherlands. He coordinates the Decolonial Summer School at UCR together with Walter Mignolo.


Anthony Downey

Anthony Downey is an academic, editor and writer. He is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz ( and sits on the editorial advisory board of Third Text (

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