In the week where Prince Charles became
‘humbled and surprised,’ to be shoed-in as the next head of The Commonwealth, I have been mulling over my recent visit to Bristol’s own museum of exploitation, domination and white man’s stolen play things.
Ostensibly my visit to The City Museum was to witness a gathering of arty folk chew over how to bring light and modern day context to the now hidden collection of 500,000 Empire and Commonwealth artefacts (which had once been displayed in the now defunct Empire and Commonwealth museum, and which now are stored away in the gunnels of the Bristol Records Office).
I admit I usually avoid entering this dusty world of neatly annotated, well organised death and decay, and so even before the meeting my hackles were slightly on attack mode.
So when the speaker from the Bristol Records Office talked about an African collection of steel locks, unique and ‘of no use to Bristol,’ and followed that by saying that ‘in fact, there is so much other people’s stuff stuffed away in dark closets that new storage space is needed.. My internal and usually well wrapped rage became ignited.
‘No, no no Bristol,’ I screamed (admittedly only internally), ‘instead of employing two full time archivists to list and categorise colonial stolen lives, instead of making quasi educational lists of historical plunder, find ways to open up the vaults and let the goodness flow back to its source.’
God how I wish I had said that.
Instead, as my stomach juices ate my own lining, I waited for my chance to blurt out
‘Why don’t you just let that encased and delicately shrivelled Egyptian queen downstairs make her journey back home, yes let her go home so she can die again within the splendour of her rightful resting place. And while we are at it, reunite that shrunken African head so he can stand strong in the solid unity of home. And please please please consider letting go of all those alarmed and stuffed animals, give them the dignity of death and decay so they too may each close their glassy eyes and return to the dust of mother earth……
Bristol: open your mucky clutches and release yourself, release us from witnessing your continued superior claims to be even handed custodians of other people’s stolen creativity and priceless heritage.’