by Felicity Bodenstein, Margareta von Oswald & Callum Fisher
It was at the recently renamed ethnography museum in Hamburg (formerly Museum für Völkerkunde, today Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt) that a meeting was organized on the 18th of May, 2018 by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Goethe Institut with the rather long and awkward title: From “Frosty Deposits of White Thirst for Knowledge” Towards Things and Wisdom without frontiers. Taken from an expression used by the German intellectual Carl Einstein in 1926 (“Das Berliner Völkerkunde-Museum. Anläßlich der Neuordnung”, published in Der Querschnitt), it refers to an early critique of Berlin’s ethnographic collections as trophies of white greed and it was published shortly before the author moved to Paris where he was to be famously part of the unique intellectual enterprise of George Bataille’s Documents. A policy meeting referencing transgressive critical thinking, may in itself be remarkable, but it was also designed to examine how German institutions might react to African claims for restitution by bringing together major actors from the German institutional landscape with African museum professionals mainly though not exclusively from former German colonies. It was clearly framed in the opening remarks as an effort to react to the November 2017 speech, made in Ouagadougou by French president, Emmanuel Macron and his self-imposed challenge to provide the conditions for a restitution of African heritage from French and even European museums. Invited but not present at the meeting in Hamburg was the French art historian, Bénédicte Savoy, who has spent most of her career teaching at the Technische Universität in Berlin, and who together with Senegalese intellectual Felwine Sarr has been mandated with producing a report to engage this initiative in France. After providing fuel for the lively debate on the state of provenance research in Germany’s ethnographic collections and in particular in provision of the establishment of the Humboldt Forum, her nomination by Macron is exemplary of transnational emulation and mirroring, where individual actors move between national contexts of policy making and contribute to rhizomatic resurgences of critical discourses. Such constellations also exemplify the context that the authors of this report wanted to address by organizing the workshop discussed here. By bringing together several research groups involved in considering the implications and differences in how colonial legacies are dealt with in Paris and Berlin, between the creation of Jacque Chirac’s Musée du Quai Branly (opened in 2006) and the debates concerning the Humboldt Forum (set to open in 2019), the focus was particularly but not exclusively on ethnographic collections and anthropological knowledge production.
more „From the brothers Humboldt to Jacques Chirac and back… A report from the three-day work shop: Exchanging perspectives: anthropologies, museum collections and colonial legacies between Paris and Berlin (June 6-8, 2018) held at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) and at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)„