Radical Institutionalism

The big circle meeting during KUNCI’s 20th birthday, Yogyakarta, August 29, 2019. Image: Nuraini Juliastuti

Mixtape No.1 on Radical Institutionalism is compiled by the IMAGINART project and its group members: Chiara De Cesari, Nuraini Juliastuti, Yazan Khalili, Abdulkerim Pusat, Aria Spinelli, Eszter Szakács, and Carine Zaayman.


How to do Radical Institutionalism?

First IMAGINART Panel Discussion with Wayne Modest, Helena Nassif, and ruangrupa’s farid rakun

July 2, 2021

With this panel and first mixtape, we inaugurate IMAGINART at the University of Amsterdam. The project is about investigating how artists and cultural producers in different parts of the world are collectively experimenting with public institutions, particularly cultural institutions, and reimagining them. Arguably, these creative experiments are producing sites and practices that might show us a path out of the current crisis of public institutions, which is a crisis of publicness and the state. Positioned at the cross-roads of the humanities, anthropology, and art, the project aims to offer a global survey of intersecting creative institutionalisms (Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and South Africa) as well as a theory of art as avenue for the political imagination and statecraft.

Invitees to this conversation lead established cultural institutions, museums, and biennials that they are trying to change into more open, inclusive, emancipatory, and transnational bodies—thinking public space and publics otherwise. In Audre Lorde’s words, they want to “dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.” They share how they translate transformative and decolonial ideas into a program of sustained action, i.e., how they practice radical institutionalism They talk about realistic idealism and how to deal with being tired, about implementing an ethics of care in the museum and how to keep imagining in spite of duress, and finally about extractive institutions and how they can be transformed into a lumbung.

Read the excerpt of the transcript

Case Studies: Museums and Cultural Instituting as…

Transnational commoning – Lumbung

Melani Budianta’s “Lumbung Budaya di Sepanjang Gang,” or the Cultural Barn along the Alleys (2020) narrates how communities in urban kampungs (a typical Indonesia neighborhood) organize commoning, the creation of shared spaces based on their own life perspective. Lumbung is Indonesian for rice barn. Budianta’s conversation with Armin Salassa, an organic farmer and activist in Bulukumba, explores various dimensions of lumbung. Another conversation was organized in the framework of Lumbung Calling: Local Anchor, documenta fifteen’s public program (2021). It looks into the making of independent institutionalization based on alternative support systems—on connections, cooperation, a volunteering culture, and networks.



See more:

Simoné, Abdoumaliq. “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg,” Public Culture 16. No.3 (2004): 407–429. PDF

Gibson-Graham, J.K., Jenny Cameron, dan Stephen Healy. Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities. Minneapolis dan London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Mies, Maria, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen. The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy. London: Zed Books, 2000.

Budianta, Melani. “The Blessed Tragedy: The Making of Women’s Activism during the Reformasi Years” in Challenging Authorianism in Southeast Asia: Comparing Indonesia and Malaysia. Edited by Ariel Heryanto & Sumit K. Mandal. London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003. PDF

Juliastuti, Nuraini. “Art to Live: Experimental Survival Strategies for Economic Independence in Alternative Cultural Arts Spaces” in Mengeja Fixer 2021: Pembacaan Kolektif Seni Indonesia dalam Sepuluh Tahun Terakhir (Spelling Fixer 2021: The Reading of Indonesian Art Collecives in the past 10 Years). Jakarta: Yayasan Gudskul Studi Kolektif, 2021.

Anticipatory representation, or hopePalestinian museums

In “The Museum Before the Museum” ملاحظات حول مفهوم المتحف في الأعمال الفنية المعاصرة , Lara Khaldi explores the history of museums in artists’ works, and how museums have been proposed and practiced in Palestine through artworks before the establishment of the museums themselves. The lecture/article shows us how they are inherently impossible due to the structural contradictions these museums are established on: they act postcolonial while they are still under colonial structures.

The talk in Arabic


The Museum Before the Musuem (English Text)


Chiara De Cesari discusses how Palestinian artists and cultural producers have played with the format of the national museum in order to realize it in spite of the enduring Israeli occupation and diasporic condition. What began as art projects have resulted in the establishment of a number of national cultural (and other) institutions, including several museums, that are often the only functioning ones in their domain. They are half art projects, half real institutions. Now there are undergoing a process of ambivalent institutionalization creating an emerging cultural infrastructure by way of alliances and networks. Hence, Palestinian artists and cultural producers participate in forging the state by performing its institutions and mocking its operations. They offer a good example of a tactic of anticipatory representation that evokes and calls into being institutions that do not (yet) exist. How do similar forms of anticipatory representation work in other contexts?

De Cesari, Chiara. “Anticipatory Representation: Thinking Art and Museums as Platforms of Resourceful Statecraft” in Reimagining the State: Theoretical Challenges and Transformative Possibilities. Edited by Davina Cooper, Nikita Dhawan, and Janet Newman. London: Routledge, 2019, 153–170. PDF


See more:

Abu-Lughod, Lila, “Imagining Palestine’s Alter-Natives: Settler Colonialism and Museum Politics.” Critical Inquiry 47, no. 1 (2019): 1–27. PDF

Toukan, Hanan. The Politics of Art: Dissent and Cultural Diplomacy in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020.

Conjuring the future, or a promise – RomaMoMA

RomaMoMA is a discursive art project of the European Roma Institute of Arts and Culture (ERIAC) and OFF-Biennale Budapest, inviting Roma and non-Roma artists, cultural experts, scholars and civil society to imagine the potential form(at)s of a future Roma museum of modern and contemporary art. RomaMoMA has the potential of conceiving and building from scratch a transnational, non-Western museum. To paraphrase and turn around Audre Lorde’s question: How do you mold a house without the master’s tools? How do you imagine a transnational Roma Museum? See RomaMoma blog here and its substantial repository of ideas and discussions around the question of a Roma Museum.


See the online exhibition Performing the Museum, with and by works of six Roma and non-Roma artists: Oto Hudec, Daniela Krajčová, Emília Rigová, Selma Selman, Robert Gabris and Marcela Hadová, curated by Denisa Tomkova.


See more:

Junghaus, Tímea. “Roma Art: Theory and Practice.” Acta Ethnographica Hungarica: An International Journal of Ethnography 59, no. 1 (2014): 25–42.

Carmona, Sarah. “Decolonizing the Arts: A Genealogy of Romani Stereotypes in the Louvre and Prado Collections.” Critical Romani Studies 1, no.2 (2018): 144-167. PDF

Kóczé, Angéla, and Nidhi Trehan. “‘When They Enter, We All Enter …’: Envisioning a New Social Europe from a Romani Feminist Perspective” in Romani Communities and Transformative Change: A New Social Europe. Edited by Andrew Ryder, Marius Taba, and Nidhi Trehan. Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2021, 179–192. PDF

Erőss, Nikolett. “Triple Braid, or, What Gives Us Reason to Hope?” e-flux Journal 119 (June 2021). PDF

Refuge and careMetropoliz/Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere (MAAM)

Space Metropoliz is a documentary by Giorgio De Finis and Fabrizio Boni that narrates the creation of MAAM, Museo Dell’Altro e Dell’Altrove/Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere by Metropoliz. De Finis and Boni describe the ups and downs of Metropoliz, a former factory squatted by the city’s housing movement Blocco Proletario Mobile to house families in need. They show the close collaboration between artists and occupants to creation an art museum to protect residents. The concept of the museum here is used as a political strategy. Although Metropoliz is on the top of the city police’s list of occupations that are soon to be evicted, the Municipality has not voted for it yet, because of the artistic value of the building and art collection. De Finis jokes about this, saying that art is worth more than the inhabitant’s lives. The museum therefore becomes a space of refuge and care, protecting the squatters from ending up on the streets again. Set up within Metropoliz, MAAM is also an inhabited museum in which most spaces are used as kitchens, playgrounds and classrooms, as well as art spaces. By using a trip to the moon as a metaphor, the film tells us about the inhabited museum that shields inhabitants and protects them from an aggressive city policy.


See more:

Grazioli, Margherita and Carlotta Caciagli. “Resisting to the Neoliberal Urban Fabric: Housing Rights Movements and the Re-appropriation of the ‘Right to the City’ in Rome, Italy. ”Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary & Nonprofit Organizations, 29, no. 4 (2018): 697–711. PDF

Borchi, Alice. “Culture as Commons: Theoretical Challenges and Empirical Evidence from Occupied Cultural Spaces in Italy. Cultural Trends 27, no.1 (2018): 33–45.

Decolonizing racialized apparatusesSouth Africa, The Netherlands

In South Africa, the need to decolonize institutions such as universities and museums came to head once the ideals of a “rainbow nation” proved ineffectual. Vuyile Voyiya and Julie McGee’s documentary The Luggage is Still Labelled (2003) addresses the persistent systemic racism within the art institutions of Cape Town in particular, and South Africa more broadly. Though it dates from less than a decade after the official end of apartheid, its implications were not sufficiently heeded by universities and galleries, whose slowness to change rendered the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall (from 2015) movements inevitable.

The Luggage is Still Labelled (2003) by Vuyile Voyiya and Julie McGee:



In the Netherlands, ongoing public debates about structural racism have taken up a distinctive form and confronted in particular heritage and cultural institutions. The roundtable Institutions Must Go? is part of an ongoing conversation between the National Museum of World Cultures and decolonial scholars, activists, curators, and artists on race, racism and anti-racism in/and the museum. In this panel, Amal Alhaag, Wayne Modest, Vincent van Velsen, Nosa Imaghodo, Simone Zeefuik, and Charles Esche discuss “the stubborn intractability of the [cultural] institution to change, and the growing impulse, at least on the part of some activists and other stakeholders, to give up”. (How) Are museums and heritage changing in the Netherlands and beyond? Institutions must go?


See more:

Wekker, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Peterson, Bhekizizwe. “Spectrality and Inter-generational Black Narratives in South Africa,” Social Dynamics 45, no.3 (2019): 345–364, DOI: 10.1080/02533952.2019.1690757.

Modest, Wayne. “Introduction.” In Matters of Belonging. Ethnographic Museums in a Changing Europe. Edited by Wayne Modest, Nicholas Thomas, Doris Prlić, and Claudia Augustat. Leiden: Sidestone, 2019.

Adonis, Cyril K. And Fortunate Silinda. “Institutional Culture and Transformation in Higher Education in Post-1994 South Africa: A Critical Race Theory Analysis.” Critical African Studies 13, no. 1 (2021): 73–94, DOI: 10.1080/21681392.2021.1911448

Theorizing with

Tina Campt, “Imagine Otherwise,” 2018, podcast

Stoler, Ann Laura. “On Archiving as Dissensus.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 38., no.1 (2018): 43–56. PDF

Fokianaki, iLiana and Laura Raicovich, “The Role of Ideology in Institutions,” 2020, podcast

Raicovich, Laura. Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest, London – New York: Verso, 2021.

For inspiration

akaKURDISTAN: https://www.akakurdistan.com/

Practicing Refusal Collective: https://www.thesojournerproject.org/about/