John McLeod
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‘Bloomsbury bazaar’
Daljit Nagra at the diasporic museum
in British culture after empire
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This essay considers the space of the museum as a dissident of location of postcolonial critique, inspired by Daljit Nagra’s poetic sequence ‘Meditations on the British Museum’ (2017). It fully acknowledges the Western institution of the museum as complicit in articulating colonial perspectives, but also challenges the views of those who regard museums as forever compromised by their indebtedness to empire. To this end, the essay combines recent thinking in museum studies concerning ‘diasporic objects’ with the critique of origins central to critical adoption studies in order to query the problematic nativism and unexplored passion for the patrial that sometimes underwrites ‘decolonial’ attitudes to object provenance and legitimate heritage. Drawing, too, upon Nicholas Thomas’s work regarding ‘curiosity’, it reframes the museum as a site of postcolonial critique where emergent relations might be struck through uncommissioned encounters between the museum’s visitors and its galleries. The new constellations of meaning created as a consequence empower us not only to admit but also redeploy our contact with colonialism’s plunder for purposefully resistant ends. A cognisance of exactly these possibilities resides at the core of Nagra’s poetic sequence, which imagines a diasporic visitor to London’s British Museum wandering at will among its myriad objects drawn from, but not confined to, a plethora of empires, ancient and modern. In his exploration of the museum as a space of generative opportunities for resistant thinking, Nagra curates in his poetry a generative encounter between the present’s enduring coloniality and the contestatory constellations yielded by unchartered diasporic curiosity.

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