Black Lives, Botany, and the Path to Decolonization

Thursday February 25

10:00 AM  –  11:00 AM

Black Lives. Plants. Systematic Racism. Botany. Scientific Collections. What have botanical museums got to do with it? What is decolonization? What does decolonization of botanical science and museum spaces mean and how do we approach this topic?  In February 2020, Rashad Bell and Nuala Caomhánach co-curated the exhibition Black Botany:The Nature of Black Experience at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden.  The exhibition sought to acknowledge the complex relationship between enslaved Black people, nature and the colonial environment and reconsider the conscious omission of Black knowledge of the natural world. In relation to the legacy of the history of botanical science and colonial histories, the absence of the Black experience perpetuates the ongoing exclusion of Black people within modern society, by whitewashing a history where racism, science, and colonial power were inherently entwined. Drawing from the experience of co-curating the Black Botany exhibition Bell and Caomhánach will explore the complexities in creating an exhibition that elevates Black Excellence to de-centre Euro-American colonial scientific narratives. In seeking to share the ongoing erasure of Black Lives, Bell and Caomhánach consider the pathways to decolonizing botanical libraries, archives, and plant collections in the emergence of institutional resistance to change in an age of Climate Change, socio-economic challenges, and the expendability of Black experience. 


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