Royal Ontario Museum apologizes for racist 1989 African exhibit

The Star, Jackie Hong
November 9, 2016
They waited 27 years for an apology.

And on Wednesday night, the African-Canadians who had decried the Royal Ontario Museum’s 1989-1990 exhibit, Into the Heart of Africa, as racist and demeaning finally got one.

The show featured artifacts taken from the continent by Canadian missionaries and soldiers.

“. . . Into the Heart of Africa perpetuated an atmosphere of racism,” ROM deputy director of collections and research Mark Engstrom said to a crowd of dozens who attended the reconciliation between the museum and the Coalition For the Truth About Africa, who had protested the exhibit in 1989 and 1990.

“The ROM expresses its deep regret for having contributed to anti-African racism. The ROM also officially apologies for the suffering incurred by the members of the African-Canadian community.”

CFTA chief spokesperson Rostant Rico John accepted the apology.

“We want our community to know: the ROM did not slip or slide, nor hide. They came forward and showed themselves and worked with us,” John said, explaining that the reconciliation process began back in 2014.

“. . . I would like to formally accept, on behalf of the African community in Canada here, the apology of the ROM,” he said to applause and cheers.

The event, which opened with a Ghanian priest in traditional robes performing a group prayer, also saw speeches from CFTA members Afua Cooper and Yaw Akyeaw, who flew in from Ghana, where they recalled protesting Into the Heart of Africa outside the museum and the hardships demonstrators faced when they spoke out about the exhibit, including arrests and racism.

Both accepted the ROM’s apology and commended the museum’s effort in righting a wrong.

The event also gave a peek into what was to come; ROM director and CEO Josh Basseches said that over the next five years, the museum was committing to several initiatives to improve its relationship with the African-Canadian community, including introducing two internships for black youth interested in museums and creating more programs that focus on African or diaspora themes.

The ROM will also mount a “major exhibition,” planned for 2018, that “addresses the exclusion of blackness from mainstream Canadian historic narrative” through the work of seven contemporary black artists, Basseches added.

More here.