About NHM: an artist statement from Not An Alternative

May 24, 2021

The Natural History Museum (NHM) is a program of Not An Alternative, a non-profit organization and collective that works at the interaction of art, activism, cultural organizing, and critical theory.

Since launching in 2014, NHM has grown into a formidable institution in its own right, leveraging the power of history, museums, monuments, and movements to change narratives, build alliances, educate the public and drive civic engagement in support of community-led movements for climate and environmental justice.

NHM strategies include developing award-winning films, exhibitions, and public cultural events; publishing; coalition-building, and advocacy. This artist statement situates NHM’s work within its broader art/activism practice. 

Not An Alternative (est. 2004) is a collective and non-profit that works at the intersection of art, activism, and critical theory. We have a mission to affect popular understandings of histories, symbols, and institutions. Not An Alternative’s work has been exhibited in museums around the world, including Guggenheim, PS1/MOMA, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Queens Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Museo del Arte Moderno, and was cited in The New York Times and ArtNet’s “Best in Art in 2015” round-ups.

Our latest, ongoing project is The Natural History Museum (NHM, 2014—), a traveling, pop-up museum that highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature. The museum inquires into what we see, how we see, and what remains excluded from our seeing. Working with artists, activists, Native Nations, scientists, and museum professionals, NHM organizes exhibitions inside museums that interpret environmental history according to new coordinates–connecting local threats and movements to protect the environment, public health, and local cultures to the history of museums, the legacy of colonialism, and to ongoing concerns about cultural and environmental heritage. Our aim is to unleash the power of museums, motivating them to act not as shrines to a civilization in decline, but as agents of change.  

NHM brings together Indigenous leaders, environmental organizers, scientists and scholars in the hopes of building a community of practice around a natural history for the future. This future is aligned with movements for climate and environmental justice, informed by a non-dominating and non-exploitative relation to the land, and guided by an obligation to generations past, present and future. 

Our practice reckons with the extractive history of natural history–the discipline’s participation in colonial processes of dispossession and nation-building, with an aim of uplifting a countervailing practice of natural history: one that relates to the natural world as a system of reciprocal relations between humans and non-humans, the elements and the land, and which recognizes the museum not as a keeper of the dead but as a custodian of the life that runs through everything—inside, under, and beyond the museum.