The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums and why we need to talk about it
by Alice Procter
Hachette, $39.99 hb, 304 pp
You are looking at a book. On its cover is a painting of a person of colour. But you can only see a portion of the piece. The face is obscured. One dark eye takes up the middle third of the page, while one nostril fills the bottom right-hand corner. The painting is covered in a layer of fine cracks – presumably due to its age. These lines show that myriad individual pieces make up the image before you, but this is still only one part of the picture. Frustratingly, you cannot see the face as a whole.
The cover belongs to art historian Alice Procter’s first book, The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums and why we need to talk about it. Contrary to the common adage, this is a book that you can judge by its cover. Procter wants us to see the cracks in the narratives we are told by museums about the objects they house. She wants us to see the deep fissures that are papered over when museums claim to be neutral spaces; the histories of violence, genocide, cultural appropriation, and European élitism that are obscured behind museums’ claims to objectivity. This book aims to make us aware not of only institutional power but of our personal biases and that colonial history has a contemporary legacy. It confronts us with the fact that in museums the whole picture is always missing from view.