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ZOOM Program: Black Lives, Botany, and the Path to Decolonization

Thu Feb 25, 2021 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
UC Botanical Garden
Black Lives. Plants. Systematic Racism. Botany. Scientific Collections. What have botanical museums got to do with it? What is decolonization? What does decolonization of botanical science and museum spaces mean and how do we approach this topic? In February 2020, Rashad Bell and Nuala Caomhánach co-curated the exhibition Black Botany:The Nature of Black Experience at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden. The exhibition sought to acknowledge the complex relationship between enslaved Black people, nature and the colonial environment and reconsider the conscious omission of Black knowledge of the natural world. In relation to the legacy of the history of botanical science and colonial histories, the absence of the Black experience perpetuates the ongoing exclusion of Black people within modern society, by whitewashing a history where racism, science, and colonial power were inherently entwined. Drawing from the experience of co-curating the Black Botany exhibition Bell and Caomhánach will explore the complexities in creating an exhibition that elevates Black Excellence to de-centre Euro-American colonial scientific narratives. In seeking to share the ongoing erasure of Black Lives, Bell and Caomhánach consider the pathways to decolonizing botanical libraries, archives, and plant collections in the emergence of institutional resistance to change in an age of Climate Change, socio-economic challenges, and the expendability of Black experience. Rashad Bell is a person who also identifies as a librarian. Most people don’t know what that means and most days he is unsure himself. Having worked in academic, public, and special libraries he is sure of one thing; librarians are thought to be helpful and he likes being helpful. Rashad presently works at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden where he has had some success in opening access, building community, and curating exhibits. He also has a fine collection of cardigans. Rashad holds BA’s in English and Film from Cleveland State University and an MLIS from Kent State University. Nuala P. Caomhánach, is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at New York University and evolutionary botanist at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on the concept, meaning, and construction of biological Time and Space across three bodies of scientific knowledge—Ecological, Malagasy, and Phylogenetic-- as applied to conservation ideology and policy from the late nineteenth century to present day. In short, her dissertation aims to understand how Madagascar became the botanical museum to save all of nature (and thus, humankind).