by Sarah Fründt and Oliver Lueb
On Oct. 18, 2018, under a title that translates as “Someone who buys something like this must be a bit crazy”, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published an interview with the business manager of the auction house Lempertz, Prof. Henrik Hanstein. The talk, conducted by Jörg Häntzschel, addressed an auction held on Oct. 24 in Lempertz’s Brussels branch, at which human remains (a shrunken head from the Jívaro, who live in the Amazon Basin near the border between Ecuador and Peru, and several ancestors’ skulls from Oceania) along with objects of clear colonial provenance were sold. Lempertz’s homepage showed the catalog and openly depicted all the items up for auction. Particularly considering the discussion of the colonial legacy conducted on almost all levels in recent years, not only the auction house’s plans, but also many of the statements made in the interview led to consternation in specialist circles as well as among a broader public.
more “A Human Skull for Sale: Is this possible?”
A.W. Amo Lecture
14th November 2018, 18h15, Melanchthonianum XX, MLU, Universitätsplatz 8/9, Halle
WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
The Capacity for Truth: Of ‘Restitution’ in African Systems of Thought
The lecture will explore some of the meanings attached to the concept and practice of restitution in precolonial African systems of thought. It will dwell in particular on those traditions that considered the most damaging wrongs as those causing harm to one’s ‘vital force’. We will elicit the juridical underpinnings of the right to restitution and revisit the relation between ‘persons’ and ‘objects’ it presupposed.
Achille Mbembe is currently Research Professor at WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He obtained his Ph.D. in history at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, France, in 1989. He subsequently obtained a D.E.A. in political science at the Instituts d’études politiques also in Paris. He has held appointments at Columbia University in New York, Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, Duke University and at the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Dakar, Senegal. Today, Achille Mbembe figures as the most renown philosopher, political theorist, and public intellectual of the African continent and won several outstanding prizes, also in Germany. His most important works are: Les jeunes et l’ordre politique en Afrique noire (1985) ; La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (1920-1960); Histoire des usages de la raison en colonie (1996); De la postcolonie. Essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporaine (2000); Sortir de la grande nuit : Essai sur l’Afrique décolonisée (2003); Critique de la raison nègre (2013); Politique de l’inimitié (2016). Most of his books have been translated into English and German.
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The contribution “Das Kulturerbe Benins auf dem Prüfstand der Zeit” by Claudia Jürgens & Barpougouni Mardjoua is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.
by Silvy Chakkalakal
*Translated from the German by Jane Yager
On Sunday afternoon, 27 May 2018, I am watching the podium and listening to Tom Holert introduce the second day of the conference “Deep Time and Crisis, ca.1930”, which is taking place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin as part of the exhibition “Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, ca. 1930”. The exhibition, jointly curated by Holert and Anselm Franke, engages with the feeling of the unbearability of the present, following the work of Carl Einstein, which is contextualised in a dense composition of texts and artworks.
more “Unbearable simultaneity On the correlation between mobile objects and people*“
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)“