Decolonizing the Narrative

The first in a series of 3 documentaries, DECOLONIZING THE NARRATIVE: Africa Galleries From Maker to Museum is a 33 minute exploration of the debates about Museums, Reparations; Restitution; and Race (with sub-titles in English, Spanish, and Portuguese).

My redesign of the Penn Museum Africa galleries is part of a project to engage in critically creative intervention in the way Africa objects have been exhibited. Essential objective in this redesign and various video productions seek to connect African stolen material culture with the African Diaspora resulting from the great European and Arab trades in enslaved African bodies. The way to de-fetishize African material culture in the West is to make this connection. It is not enough to simply discuss restitution without making this connection.

The 850 million visitors to American museums need a better representation of Black Culture. The first installment of Decolonizing the Narrative focuses on my redesigned of the Penn Museum Africa Galleries -- "From the Maker to Museum". We do so in conversation with African Museum Directors, curators, and contemporary artist in the Diaspora and Africa. In this series we will trace, the histories created by African classical culture (i.e. Benin cultural artifacts) and African Diaspora culture in the United States, Latin America and Europe. Current debates about reparations and restitution, have led to a political conversation about the return of artifacts to Africa, and resulted in the realization of national museums in the United States and Brazil. This documentary is part one of a three part series on Decolonizing the Narrative.

Decolonizing the Narrative is a documentary reflection on African artistry and design, and the debate about decolonizing the exhibition of African material culture in Western museums. With Penn Museum as our experimental case, we tell a story of how the objects arrived at the museum, and why viewers are invited to consider these objects in a new context. We turn the exhibition back onto the Penn Museum itself. In Decolonizing the Narrative, Tukufu Zuberi, the lead curator, takes us on a journey with museum directors and curators from African institutions, and contemporary artists in Africa and the African Diaspora as they respond to the exhibiting of African material culture in western museums. The redesign of the new Penn Museum Galleries is a practical response to this intellectual debate on race, culture and the future.

  • Tukufu Zuberi
    African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; Tides of Freedom: the African Presence on the Delaware River
  • Tukufu Zuberi
  • Jabari Zuberi
  • Temitope Olutunmbi
    Editor & Cinamatographer
  • Tukufu Zuberi
  • Genres:
    Museum, Decolonization, Emancipation, Race, Race and Museums, Africa, Classical Africa, History, Public Education, Colonialism, Enslavement, Enslavement on the African Continent, African enslavement, Enslavement in Africa, Nigeria, Benin, Lagos, Morocco, Marrakesh, Senegal, Museum of Black Civilization, Musée des Civilisations Noirs, Museum of Black Civilizations
  • Runtime:
    30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    April 1, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    150,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
    English, French
  • Student Project:
  • Tukufu Zuberi
Distribution Information
  • Tukufu Zuberi
    Country: United States
Director Biography - Tukufu Zuberi

Tukufu Zuberi is the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, museum curator, documentarian, and television host. Zuberi hosted the PBS HISTORY DETECTIVES. His first independent documentary, AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE, screened in festivals and won numerous awards. He curated the Penn Museum Africa Galleries (AFRICA GALLERIES FROM MAKER TO MUSEUM), and produced two new documentaries (BEFORE THINGS FELL APART; & DECOLONIZING THE NARRATIVE.)

From 2003 to 2014, Dr. Zuberi was a host of the hit Public Broadcasting System (PBS) series HISTORY DETECTIVES. In 2014, Dr. Zuberi returned as host and co-producer of the PBS series HISTORY DETECTIVES: Special Investigations. His documentary AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE, a feature-length documentary highlights the movements to win independence in Africa. His feature-length documentary on the history of ancient Sudan entitled BEFORE THINGS FELL APART; and his short documentary DECOLONIZING THE NARRATIVE (first in a series of three documentaries on Museums, Reparations; Restitution; and Race).

Dr. Zuberi is the curator of several exhibitions. He curated TIDES OF FREEDOM: AFRICAN PRESENCE ON THE DELAWARE AT THE INDEPENDENCE SEAPORT MUSEUM. Using four key moments in Philadelphia's history representing the themes of Enslavement, Emancipation, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, Tides of Freedom urges visitors both to bear witness to a story central to Philadelphia and American history, and to think about the meaning of "freedom" both historically and in today's world. His exhibition, BLACK BODIES IN PROPAGANDA: THE ART OF THE WAR POSTER premiered at the Penn Museum. The BLACK BODIES IN PROPAGANDA exhibit was also presented at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, Washington, and at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Also, Professor Zuberi curated the Penn Museum AFRICAN GALLERIES: FROM MAKER TO MUSEUM.

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Director Statement

The first in a series of 3 documentaries, DECOLONIZING THE NARRATIVE is a 33 minute exploration of the debates about Museums, Reparations; Restitution; and Race.

University of Pennsylvania Professor, PBS History Detective, and curator of the Penn Museum Galleries, Tukufu Zuberi, pushes us to understand that a recovery of missing information and missing voices is central to our understanding of museum culture. Following brilliantly melodic journeys into intriguing places, Zuberi adds context through intimate portrayals of conversations with artists and curators that are relaxed and intriguing. The audience is given the space and time to understand the significance of each issue.