In Maurice Berger’s book, For All The World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, he describes the evolution of visual representations of African Americans from the racist depictions in the 1930s to the empowered images during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The visual culture of the Civil Rights Movement reveals the ways in which African American’s were gaining agency over their representations in popular culture.
The 1960s saw multiple struggles over self-representation in media and popular culture. Laura McDowell-Hopper, current curator at the Pick Museum of Anthropology and former curator at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, highlighted that imagery and agency over visual representations were just as important to the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. When asked about the lasting effects of the movement in museums, she discussed that museums have just recently begun to give Native American peoples agency and authority over their objects, narratives, and images. Laura mentioned that before she started at the Mitchell in 2008, the museum rarely involved local American Indian peoples in their exhibitions or programs.
The struggle over self-representation and visual culture of minority groups did not begin or end with the various rights movements of the mid-20th century. Museums continue to be a battleground where the fight for agency over visual representations occur. Collaboration is one solution to interpreting contemporary history and allowing for self-representation. How else can museum professionals further allow for self-representation in their institutions?