The politics of space and the critical role of art in historical museums

Bimbola Akinbola*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This essay examines the common museum practice of separating historical artifacts from contemporary art either by building wing or by floor, divorcing spaces where people go to learn the “truth” from the spaces where people go to look at beautiful objects. I contend that this tradition limits the ability of museumgoers to critically engage artifacts, and propose utilizing the work of contemporary artists to remedy this. I argue that the incorporation of contemporary art within historical museums creates non-linear, inclusive, diverse and even intentionally antagonistic narratives that challenge passive viewing practices and facilitate new types of interactions between art, artifacts, and visitors. Lastly, this essay calls for the active participation of museums in shedding their roles as beacons of truth and reorienting visitors to ask questions, grapple with contradiction, and create their own meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAcademics, Artists, and Museums
Subtitle of host publication21st-Century Partnerships
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781351402989
ISBN (Print)9781138300781
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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