Extinction Voices, Extinction Silences: Reflecting on a Decolonial Role for Natural History Exhibits in Promoting Thinking about Global Ecological Crisis, Using a Case Study from Bristol Museums

Isla Gladstone, Persephone Pearl


Between August-December 2019, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery covered 32 animals in its World Wildlife Gallery with transparent black veils, to highlight the global ecological crisis. Each veiled animal represented a species extinct or at high to extreme risk of extinction. The intervention, called Extinction Voices, responded to calls from local schoolchildren and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) for transformative change in addressing this critical challenge. It gained international recognition, and generated conversation and action by visitors and the museum sector. This article explores the motivations and curatorial choices behind the intervention and how audiences responded. Its focus is a journey of critical reflection – on the intervention’s mainstream environmental framing, the institution’s colonial roots and their impact on its contemporary narratives. In turn, the article considers the possibilities that open exploration of silenced colonial histories brings for museums and the global ecological crisis.


Museums; extinction; structural racism; decolonization; environmental justice

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v20i1.3806

Copyright (c) 2022 Isla Gladstone, Persephone Pearl

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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