“Bringing home our Gods” Nationalistic and Populistic Dangers in Debates about Heritage Restitution in India

14. July 2019

by Regina Höfer

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

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Recent years have witnessed overall debates about the legitimacy and the future of the museum, especially of the ethnographic museum. An important reason for this is the question of provenance.

How did the objects we encounter when visiting a museum get there and what does that mean? These are in short the central questions of provenance research. For the last few years provenance and especially restitution claims have become highly controversial and pressing topics. All the more so since the so-called restitution-report commissioned by French president Macron on former French colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa has been published and discussed not only by an expert audience, but by the wider public. The fact that France seems to prepare the return of African artefacts looted in its colonial era marks a turning point in the discussion. Indeed, Germany is influenced by these discussions, too. With the national prestige project of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, a new museum complex dedicated in large parts to non-Western art and material culture, Germany is redefining its self- and public image as a liberal and cosmopolitan nation by showcasing the cultures of the world in the historic city centre. The political and legitimising function of art since time immemorial is reflected in such ambitious national projects until today. 

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Palace Museums in the Cameroon Grassfields: Sites of Inclusion, Exclusion, and Alienation

14. July 2019

by Erica Jones

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

In an average year, the museums in the Cameroon Grassfields host a wide range of visitors including international tourists and expats, members of the diaspora who return home to visit, students, academic researchers, and Cameroonians interested in art and culture. The Grassfields museums consciously set out to serve the needs and expectations of these local and non-local populations in different ways.  Exegesis obtained through extensive interviews and comments left in museum guest books in the museums in the kingdoms of Baham, Bafut, Mankon, and Babungo revealed the following trends.  Tourists visiting the museum look for authenticity and an opportunity to experience something new, unexpected, and distinctly foreign from what they know. The urban Grassfields populations and members of the Grassfields diaspora visit these museums with an expectation of entertainment and to experience a sense of nostalgia.  A rural population living in closer proximity to the palace and museums, will play out their current concerns about modernity, monarchy, and history in the museum. This final group’s perceptions of their local kingdom’s museum are rooted in issues that are deeply personal, such as political inclusion and exclusion, ownership of culture and cultural objects, agency of the local population to shape their own heritage, and the right of the palace to benefit economically from the kingdom’s cultural heritage. It is this last series of themes that I will examine here.

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Challenges of rewriting the Khomani San/Bushman archive at Iziko Museums of South Africa

13. July 2019

by Paul Tichmann

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

After many years of discussion and deliberation the controversial Ethnographic Gallery at Iziko South African Museum was finally de-installed on 15 September 2017. The response to the decision elicited an interesting and conflicting range of responses.  Several members of the public, including Khoisan descendants, complained about the closure, while a number of Khoisan chiefs and Khoisan descendants commented that the closure was overdue. A retired historian from the University of Cape Town argued that it was a ‘grave mistake’ to close the diorama as it could be used ‘to show the history of what colonialism did to the hunters and herders of the Cape’.[1] A group of doctoral students staged an intervention, closing the Ethnographic Gallery space off with tape declaring the space to be “A colonial crime scene” and holding a performance,  Ndabamnye neenkumbulo nemiphefumlo enxaniweyo” (I became one with memories and thirsty souls). The curators of the intervention argued that ‘the objects in the gallery are in fact evidence of colonial crimes and require decolonial investigation’.[2] 

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The Crisis of Anthropological Museums from the Perspective of an Anthropology of Museums, and some Remarks on the Agency of Restitution Conceived as a Restitution of Agency

13. July 2019

by Erhard Schüttpelz  (University of Siegen)

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

(July 2019)

(1.) Apart from royal societies and their art, f.i. Benin Bronze sculptures, most African ritual objects were not preserved for eternity or for permanent preservation, but were made for their cyclical reproduction and renewal in new artefacts. Once objects fell out of ritual use or were damaged by use, they were destroyed or left to decay. After all, these objects were part of performative arts, of music, dance, ritual, and of invisible powers manifesting themselves first in movement, and more often than not deriving their existence from performances, or from “African Art in Motion”.

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A Contamination of Provenance? The Relevance of Extended Materialities to Provenance Research and Restitution Processes: Examples from the Linden Museum Stuttgart.

13. July 2019

by Christoph Rippe

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

Figure 1: the whip and bible ascribed to Hendrik Witbooi once prepared for transport to Namibia (February 2019, Linden Museum, photograph: Dominik Drasdow).

In 2013, the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Art of Baden-Württemberg, in cooperation with the Linden Museum, initiated the process with Namibian counterparts that would lead to the restitution of the bible and whip ascribed to the Namibian national hero, Hendrik Witbooi. The restitution eventually took place in February 2019.[1] While this political event has received considerable attention in the national and international press, parallel background efforts to reconsider colonial museum collections have been less visible. Between 2016 and 2018, Gesa Grimme carried out provenance research on the Linden Museum’s Namibia collection, next to collections from Cameroon and the Bismarck-Archipelago.[2] Since late 2018, the museum continues this effort by employing two provenance researchers, including myself. These two positions are related to two initiatives. First, the Linden Museum is part of the initiative for ethnological museums created by the German Federal Cultural Foundation in 2018. Together with the MARKK in Hamburg and the Grassi Museum in Leipzig, the Linden Museum receives funding over the course of three years to support processes of renewal.[3] Secondly, the Linden Museum joined several other cultural institutions in Baden-Württemberg in the so-called “Namibia Initiative”, with the aim to establish ongoing relationships with their Namibian counterparts.[4] In this essay I address the role which a close attention to museum objects, the recognition of an extended materiality, and indeed past and present textual and photographic descriptions of objects may play in provenance research and consequently in restitution processes. more “A Contamination of Provenance? The Relevance of Extended Materialities to Provenance Research and Restitution Processes: Examples from the Linden Museum Stuttgart.”

BENIN BRONZES: SOMETHING GRAVE HAPPENED AND IMPERIAL RULE OF LAW IS SUSTAINING IT!

13. July 2019

by Folarin Shyllon*

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

In 1897 a great tragedy befell the kingdom of Benin when a British punitive expedition looted the treasury of treasures in the royal palace and plundered artefacts including those of great spirituality to the Bini people. Benin kingdom is now part of Nigeria and since Independence in 1960 Nigeria and also the Benin Royal Court have been anxious for the return of iconic and spiritual ones among the plundered cultural objects. The efforts have until recently been unsuccessful. President Emmanuel Macron of France in his Ouagadougou declaration has given momentum to the issue of restitution. Various arguments have been used to dismiss the requests. They include: public international law at the time permitted the seizure and preserving the status of universal museums in the various European countries. These ignore the concepts of what is right and wrong, and the need for ethics based repatriation. The paper examines the issues and concludes that only insistence on imperial rule of law or illegal rule of law can sustain the long standing refusal to contemplate restitution.

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A postcolonial moment in analytic engagement with museum ethnographic collections?

10. July 2019

by Helen Verran

A version of this paper will be given at the upcoming international conference „Museum Collections in Motion. Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, July 15th- 17th, 2019.  See https://gssc.uni-koeln.de/32059.html

• A postcolonial moment emerges as happenings of political, cultural and epistemic work in institutional and organisational settings—it is passage, trajectory, going-on inflected in particular ways.

• Postcolonialism is not a stoppage or reversal of colonialism, rather a re-gathering and diverting. It is using resources at hand, albeit in some way an outcome of the colonial.

• Such a trajectory is beset by tension: a seeming imminent failure and dashing of hopes, set against the hopeful expectation of achievement of future different than pasts.

• Postcolonial moments emerge in particular situated episodes of institutional practices.

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“Stolen from Africa?” Statement by the Basel Workshop on Namibian Cultural Heritage in Switzerland

10. July 2019

organised by the Centre of African Studies of the University of Basel and the Basler Afrika Bibliographien in collaboration with the Swiss Society of African Studies and the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, 8 May 2019

Colonial heritage and, in particular, colonial heritage collections, underpin many Swiss cultural institutions, notably ethnographic museums but also art museums and (university) research institutions and their archives. Similar to European colonial powers, Switzerland´s history has been shaped by multiple and complex political, economic and cultural entanglements with colonialism in the global South and within particular former colonies.

The Basel workshop “Stolen from Africa”? with international participation from Namibia and Germany focused on one limited area, namely Namibian Cultural Heritage collections in various Swiss institutions in Basel, Berne and Zurich. In particular, we addressed questions concerning the nature and state of provenance research for such collections and Swiss institutional practices in dealing with its colonial legacies. The lively, so-called restitution debate, which has gained prominence since the 2018 Restitution Report by the Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy, has major significance and repercussions for any institution with collections of colonial heritage, both in Europe and elsewhere.

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