An Oxford museum defends itself against fake news

“The museum removes a mask”, “not for women” title The Telegraph June 18, 2024. The English newspaper accuses the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford of having removed an African mask from its rooms and online collections on the grounds that it should not be seen by a woman. The Telegraph does not cite its sources but criticizes the new directives concerning the “respect for cultures” set up by the Oxford Museum.

The museum management denies the rumor and publishes a press release on its website in response to the article in The Telegraph. “It’s a non-event”protests Laura van Broekhoven, director of the Pitt Rivers Museum. “The Ogbo mask has never been removed from the rooms, it has always been exhibited to the public without access being refused to anyone” explains the press release. “No access to digital resources has been denied to women” specifies the text.

The accusations of The Telegraph relate to the new directives of “respect for cultures” of the museum taken this year. These guidelines stipulate that warning notices must be added to the museum’s collections database: this concerns objects said “sensitive”. “The museum’s collections today carry a message regarding the cultural context of the works. Those from different cultures around the world can choose which artifacts they decide to see or not. Only 3,000 objects identified carry this type of warning, which represents less than 1% of the entire collection. »explains Laura van Broekhoven in response to the article in The Telegraph. Laura van Broekhoven also responds to the newspaper’s accusations concerning a supposed works selection committee. “The museum does not work with groups to “select” objects for display but works with groups to allow them to decide how their cultures will be represented”specifies the director.

The purpose of the warning notices is to protect people who find these artifacts disturbing. “We have a large-scale collection, and for this reason we have a responsibility that concerns several communities”, explains Laura van Broekhoven. Rather than prohibiting visitors and researchers from having access to objects, this new system gives everyone the freedom to choose. On the website, there is for example a warning notice concerning a “isikira”head ornament which was worn by young Massai girls after their excision.

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