Contested Representations examines the controversy surrounding the Into the Heart of Africa exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto in 1989-90. The exhibition was meant to travel to the US and Canada, but four major museums cancelled their contracts due to its controversial nature.
With this richly textured account of the ways in which the exhibit became the site of an expansive—and explosive—discussion of representation, racism, and power, Butler asks why the exhibit failed for so many people. In the process she discusses issues of curatorial authority, institutional politics, legacies of colonialism, traditions of representing Africa, the politics of irony, and reflexive museology. The combination of race, postmodernism, colonialism, community activism, and heated debate still leaves the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit in a class by itself. It continues to be cited, debated, and used as reference points by Africanists, art historians, museologists, cultural anthropologists, and historians.
Originally published in 1994, this case study is now available in an affordable paperback edition with a new Foreword by Anthony Shelton (UBC Museum of Anthropology) and an Afterword by the author outlining recent ROM practices in relation to the Black community and in representing Africa.