Seminar with Reindert Dhondt: Decolonizing Heritage and Subjectivity in Gabriela Wiener’s Huaco retrato
Contemporary decolonial thought questions the role museums have played and continue to play in the constitution of the Eurocentric aesthetic and epistemic order that characterizes the ‘modern/colonial’ world system. Both ethnographic and art museums are often seen as expressions of imperial power which (re)produce the ‘white gaze’ in the sense that they not only conserve historical artefacts, but have also erased other worlds and forms of thinking or sensing. In this talk I will analyze how the autofictional novel Huaco retrato (2021) by Peruvian author Gabriela Wiener reveals the darker side of Western modernity –of which the museum is a key institution– by paying attention to ‘stolen memories’ (Mignolo) and silenced voices, and by re-signifying forgotten or looted artefacts as bearers of affective memories that are closely tied to the narrator’s complex descent and her gender and ethnic identity. Because of this entanglement between heritage and subjectivity, Huaco retrato revisions the cultural memory constructed by museums and colonial exhibitions, and stages the transformation of the ‘archival memory’ into a ‘functional’ or ‘inhabited’ one (Assmann 1994).
Reindert Dhondt is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Languages, Literature and Communication.