Disturbing Stories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism

Organized in response to the Museum’s recent acquisition of Titus Kaphar’s Flay (James Madison), this upcoming relocation of one of our most important gallery spaces forces us to tackle our collection of European and American art, 1650 -1850.

In recent times, growing public awareness of the continuing repercussions of the legacy of slavery and colonization has challenged museums to examine the uncomfortable stories contained in our collections and challenged the public to probe the choices we make about these stories. Choices about the artists you see in our galleries, choices about what relevant facts we share about the works, and choices about what – from an endless number of options – we don’t say about them.

The pieces in this exhibit were made at a time when the world was shaped by the ideologies of colonial expansion and Western domination. And yet, this history and the stories of the marginalized do not easily appear in the still lifes and portraits exhibited here. As we wrestle with what is visible and what remains hidden, we are forced to consider which stories and stories take priority and why.

In this online exhibition, you can explore our efforts to deeply question the Museum‘s collection and our own past complicity in fostering colonial voices. In the Museum’s gallery, which will open in early 2021, you can experience the changes we are making to the physical space to showcase a more honest version of European and American history.

By questioning our own practice and continuing to add to what we know and what we write about the works we exhibit, UMMA tells a more complex and complete story of this nation – a story that disturbs and fails. not content with simple stories.

“Things unseen are not necessarily ‘not there’… Some absences are so stressed, so ornate, so planned, that they draw attention to themselves; stopping us with intention and purpose, like neighborhoods that are defined by the population kept away from them.

— Toni Morrison

Primary support for Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism is provided by the University of Michigan Provost’s Office, the UM Arts Initiative, and the Susan and Richard Gutow Endowment Fund.

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