Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero communities at the National Museum of Colombia: a reflexive ethnography of (in)visibility, documentation and participatory collaboration

  • Sofia Gonzalez-Ayala

Student thesis: Phd


The subject of this thesis is the temporary and travelling exhibition Velorios y santos vivos: comunidades negras, afrocolombianas, raizales y palenqueras [Wakes and living saints: Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero communities]. 'Velorios,' as many people involved in the project referred to it, portrayed Afro-Colombian funerals and devotions to Catholic saints, and was on display in the temporary exhibitions hall in the National Museum of Colombia, in Bogotá, from 21 August to 3 November 2008. Before it closed, a travelling version was designed that began to go around the country in 2009. When I wrote this thesis, 'the Itinerante,' as the travelling version was referred to at the Museum, was still available as one of the displays that its Travelling Exhibitions Programme (TEP) offered to the public. I use Velorios and the Itinerante as the main 'characters' in an ethnography of the National Museum of Colombia, where I explore the different instances in which this major exhibition produced visibilities and invisibilities regarding the place of Afro-Colombian people in the nation. As a museum, this institution is responsible for managing, researching and displaying its four collections (of art, history, ethnography and archaeology) but also, as one of the Ministry of Culture's 'special administrative units,' it is in charge of designing and implementing policies that regulate all the other museums in Colombia. This is in keeping with national and international official legislation regarding cultural heritage, like the National Culture Plan and UNESCO's resolutions, and in support of the development and strengthening of museums, museology and museum design in the whole country. Here I show what these responsibilities and duties translate into on the ground. The themes that the thesis explores are i) (in)visibility, ii) participatory collaboration and, also as the means to approach these themes, iii) documents and documentation. They are all components of the kind of curatorship that this museum exhibition conveyed.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRupert Cox (Supervisor) & Peter Wade (Supervisor)


  • Participation
  • (In)visibility
  • Collaboration
  • Race
  • Visual anthropology
  • Museum anthropology
  • Latin-America
  • Colombia
  • Black people
  • Afro-Colombians
  • Documents
  • Exhibitions

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