Sleeping Objects On the future of museum artefacts

2. October 2018

Aquí leen la versión en castellano

by Ingrid Kummels

The news of the devastating fire at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro calls to mind the following aspect of museums of a similar immense size: In keeping with their claim of representing the nation and the wealth of its cultural heritage, they have amassed large quantities of artefacts that have been collected for them all around the world. Over time, these objects have been predominantly stored in the depots of these prestigious buildings. But this very concentration is what makes this cultural heritage vulnerable to the catastrophe of a fire. Even though the many objects in their storerooms are being conserved and some of them are being investigated – for the depot is “the continually throbbing heart of a museum” [1] – these stored objects lack an “exhibition status”, and thus have no public impact. The tedious task of preserving them in the depot lurks in the shadows. The depots contain, in addition, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of cultural assets that have never been put to any scholarly use during their decades and centuries there. In this way, they are withheld from world knowledge.

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Ambivalent Futures On the restitution of objects and white innocence

25. September 2018

by Sven Schütze

The legacies of colonialism and imperialism are keeping the European museum scene busy. At first glance, colonial amnesia seems to be overcome and museums to pave the way for postcolonial restorative justice. A second glance, though, might reveal inconsistencies and shortcomings structuring present museum work. The current debate mainly focuses on objects being looted, exchanged, extorted or bought under colonial rule, and considers the restitution of objects to former deprived communities or relevant descendants no longer a taboo subject. This is a development to be welcomed. What is striking, however, is that a sometimes narrow conception of decolonial engagement can be noted. Solely spotlighting the presence of objects, material entities and human remains as colonial legacies, these strategies fall short on challenging power hierarchies in the present. There is no colonialism without racism. But is racism a subject museums consider worth analyzing while discussing the restitution of objects?

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Ethnological Collections and Municipal Displays

18. September 2018

by H. Glenn Penny

On September 14, 2018, Manuela Andreoni and Ernesto Londoño published an essay in the New York Times on the recent destruction of artifacts and records at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. They titled it: “Loss from Brazil fire felt like a ‘new Genocide’.” Their first major point was that this museum had housed irreplaceable records – material objects as well as texts – that both Brazilian scholars and representatives of Brazil’s many indigenous groups had been using to learn about their pasts. As those records burned, so too did their access to those human histories. The world, they made clear, has been impoverished by that loss.

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Unbearable simultaneity On the correlation between mobile objects and people*

24. July 2018

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.

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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)

17. July 2018

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.

moreFrom 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)

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10. July 2018

The contribution “Durch den Tunnel der Kritik zum Weitblick” by Faruzan Abulimiti, Armin Bestvater, Katharina Funk, Tobias Gaschler, Lea-Elisa Jakob, Vanessa Jüttner, Can Kapcik, Aaron Klinger, Felix Leikauf, Marvin Marcks, Gesa Marxsen, Yosé-Gré Reenders, Katharina Schramm and Cheyenne Thiel is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.

Imagine decolonizing the law – what would happen?*

3. July 2018

by Souad Zeineddine

*Translated by Jonathan DeVore and Julian Schmischke

7 June 2018: In the Schlüter courtyard of the German Historical Museum (DHM), I am waiting for interdisciplinary symposium “The Stone Cross from Cape Cross – Colonial Objects and Historical Justice,” to begin. I start to imagine what would happen if N’Jadaka, one of the main protagonists of the  Afrofuturist Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Black Panther’ (2018), climbed through the glass dome of the courtyard. The target of his operation: the return of the Cape Cross pillar.[1] After the (fictitious) repatriation of the Vibranium Axe, from the (fictional) “British Museum” (jhuexhibtionist 2018) to Wakanda, this would be his second ‘illegal’ repatriation. On the one hand, I am amused by the idea of looking into the faces of the 350 national and international guests (DHM 2018), whose expressions range from shocked to horrified. On the other hand, considering the symposium’s program, I start thinking about possibilities for decolonizing national and international law.

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The pitfalls of ‘shared heritage’

19. June 2018

by Sarah van Beurden

As a historian of museum institutions on the African continent, and as someone who has chronicled the histories of earlier disputes around restitution, I have been following the growing debates around the reinstallation of European museums with great interest. They are, at least in part, responsible for the recent revival of debates around the western possession of African heritage. In particular, this connection is apparent in the projected reinstallation of the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the Humboldt Forum, slated to open in December 2019, as well as in the renovation and reinstallation of the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Belgium, slated to reopen this December. The leadership of these institutions have, to their credit, engaged with the existing debates. However, in doing so, both Hermann Parzinger, head of the Humboldt Forum and Guido Gryseels, director of the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, have used the concept of ‘shared heritage’ (patrimoine partagé) to define their collections, as a way to address a common history and to recognize the importance of the objects in their institutions for multiple communities.[1] I want to explore the historical trajectory of that term and its consequences here.

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[translation underway]

12. June 2018

The contribution “Lässt sich der koloniale Blick umdrehen?” by Steffi de Jong is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.

[translation underway]

29. May 2018

The contribution “Das Wissen der Anderen in der Provenienzforschung” by Andrea Scholz is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.