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Disturbing Heritage and Decolonial Thought: Huaco Retrato as an Anti-Museum


Dr. Reindert Dhondt Assistant Professor Hispanic Literature, Utrecht University

2 June 2023

Activity: CEDLA Lecture


Contemporary decolonial thought questions the role museums have played and continue to play in the constitution of the Eurocentric aesthetic and epistemic order that characterizes the modern/colonial world system. Both ethnographic and art museums are often seen as expressions of imperial power which (re)produce the colonial gaze in the sense that they not only conserve historical artefacts, but have also erased other worlds and forms of thinking or sensing.


In this talk I will discuss how contemporary Latin American literature engages with colonial objects and the act of collecting, and functions as an agent of decolonization. As a case-study, I will examine how the autofictional novel Huaco retrato (2021) by Peruvian-born author Gabriela Wiener reveals the darker side of Western modernity –of which the museum is a key institution– by paying attention to ‘stolen memories’ (Mignolo) and silenced voices, and by re-signifying forgotten or looted artefacts as bearers of affective memories that are closely tied to the narrator’s complex descent and the construction of her gender and ethnic identity. Because of this entanglement between heritage and subjectivity, the novel critically revisions the cultural memory constructed by museums and colonial exhibitions.


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