image of The ethnographic museum as a sensitive translation
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This article analyzes the recently renewed, permanent exhibition of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (AfricaMuseum) in Tervuren, Belgium. The museum is seen as a translational space, considering the parallels between, on the one hand, curatorial strategies to represent cultural otherness and, on the other, processes of cultural and interlingual translation (Sturge 2007). We draw on an interdisciplinary mindset of translation as change and choice, as a multimodal and multimedial activity, and as an inevitably meaning-transforming process. Pressured to keep pace with the rapidly evolving public debate on decolonization, the curators-translators of the AfricaMuseum are aware that they are dealing with “sensitive texts” (Simms 1997) and have, accordingly, adopted a set of strategies to reduce perceived “translation risks” (Pym and Matsushita 2018). The article explores these strategies at three levels of translation operating in the museum: cultural, intersemiotic, and interlingual. In particular, we reveal the inherent tensions in the current display by discussing scenographic interventions that undermine the decolonization efforts in a number of galleries. These tensions are conceptualized as incomplete or incoherent forms of translation and illustrate the “work in progress” in the AfricaMuseum.


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