Who is “the Other” Now?

Cecilia Axelsson
Department of History, School of Humanities, Växjö University, Sweden

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Ingår i: National museums in a global world. NaMu III; Department of culture studies and oriental languages; University of Oslo; Norway; 19-21 November 2007

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 31:8, s. 91-99

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Publicerad: 2008-07-16


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


The purpose of this paper is to discuss how some museums in South Africa and Scandinavia address the task of being part of a “new” multi-cultural society; and what happens to the narrative roles of “Us” and the “Others” in museum mediation of history today. In South Africa; 14 years after the transition from apartheid to democratic policies; old museums are struggling with their identity; with their legacy and with their collections. Some museums make a powerful effort to help people regain a space and a voice in the present by accentuating the presence in the past. This makes for interesting discussions on identity; national heritage and the mediation of history in a multi-cultural society. Who was “the Other” that was not represented before and who is “the Other” today; for example in the mediation of history in a place like the Robben Island Museum; celebrating the liberation struggle with an inclusive approach but also with a very distinct cast of actors; those good and those bad – “Us” and “the Others”?

From 2005 to 2008 the exhibition Kongospår – Traces of the Congo – has opened its doors in national museums in Scandinavia and Finland. This exhibition’s starting point is “Why are there so many artefacts from the Congo in our collections and why are there so many traces of the Congo in Scandinavia?” It is a reflective exhibition that tries to problematize colonialism and the presence of the whites – the Scandinavians – in the history of the Congo. What is interesting is that in problematizing the gaze of the past upon “the Others” – the people of the Congo – the exhibition can also be interpreted as critically problematizing the notion of “Us” in the past. Who were the “We” who thought that we had the right to exploit the Africans or saw it as “our” mission to civilize “the Other”? But in distancing ourselves from the exploiters and colonizers of the past; and in a multi-cultural and inclusive society of today; who is allotted the narrative roles of “Us” and “the Other” – Who is “the Other” now?


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