Two American museums have canceled plans to present an exhibition of the Canadian missionary and volunteer military experience in Africa over concerns the show could be perceived as "racist."
"Into the Heart of Africa," an exhibition of photographs and cultural artifacts brought back by Canadian missionaries and soldiers who traveled there during the 18th and 19th centuries, ended its 10-month run at the Royal Ontario Museum Aug 6., under a cloud of protests.
In September, two Canadian museums, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, and the Vancouver Museum, decided against the exhibit over fear of attracting the kind of demonstrators that picketed the Royal Ontario Museum.
Last week, the Royal Ontario Museum announced that the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico had also decided to cancel.
The show's most controversial exhibits included depictions of horse-mounted, white, colonial officers running a sword through African tribesmen, and others that showed the missionaries "teaching" Africans how to wash and comb their hair.
Loss of the four shows is estimated to have cost the Royal Ontario Museum $100,000 in rental fees.
The exhibit was "clearly and very consciously anti-racist," said John McNeill, acting director of the Royal Ontario Museum. The museum, he added, "particularly regrets that Canadians, for whom this show was most relevant, will not be able to critically examine the colonial biases of Canadian missionaries and soldiers who traveled to Africa."
Although neither of the American museum directors have seen the exhibit, the negative publicity and costs involved in trying to alter the show were cited as reasons for canceling.
Craig Black, director of the Los Angeles museum, said the exhibit was "perceived to be racist," and no matter what changes were made, "you couldn't dispel that notion." Black said the information he'd received about the show was, "this isn't the type of show the black community (in Los Angeles) thought was helpful to the discussion of black history."
After studying the press coverage and community reaction in Toronto, James Moore, director of the Albuquerque Museum, "decided against it." He added that it "wasn't financially feasible" to remount the exhibit.