Blind Spots and Asterisks in the Subtitle Reactions to the Exhibition “Bremen and Art in the Colonial Era”

31. October 2017

by Cordula Weißköppel

In individual psychology, blind spots are the phenomenon in which certain emotionally unpleasant matters are blocked out of subjective consciousness, rendering them inaccessible to conscious processing. They have seldom been diagnosed in museums; after all, these institutions exhibit what is beautiful and important in a society and shed a special light on what was previously hidden. It is all the more surprising that, at the beginning of August, Bremen’s Kunsthalle opened its print room to present the special exhibition “Bremen and Art in the Colonial Era” and took “The Blind Spot” as its leitmotif. During the colonial era, didn’t people speak more about the “white spots” on the map?

Into the Whirlpool Part Two: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

24. October 2017

by Erhard Schüttpelz

Marx was right, but we can delve deeper into his famous dictum from the “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”. History does not repeat itself by alternating from tragedy to farce. Farce is the covering of tragedy, i.e., its being and its mask. The beheading of the former ethnological museum is a tragedy that hasn’t only now taken on the form of a farce, but that was prepared by many little tragicomic travesties. And after 15 years of discussion, all the repetitions of this process ineluctably become parodies – and I am no exception. I devote myself to the farce to make the tragedy more recognizable.

Into the Whirlpool Part One: Soft Spots and Blind Spots

17. October 2017

by Erhard Schüttpelz

Everything has been said about the Humboldt Forum. And it was already said ten years ago. The discussion has long gone around in circles. This year, newspaper culture sections have taken charge, without bringing up any new aspects. The only new thing is the marked pull downward, which is addressed in the two essays by Viola König and Bernhard Streck. Ethnology was excluded from the management level of an ethnological museum or a permanent ethnological exhibition, without discussion and without reasons; and the building will be crowned with a five-meter-high cross, to be understood as a sign of tolerance, so that the heathen traditions can find their place in the Occident. The exclusion looks like a scientific discipline punished by being declared underage, the cross like a satire: those who don’t want it are simply not tolerant enough.

moreInto the Whirlpool Part One: Soft Spots and Blind Spots

The Frogs Croaked Cleverly, but the Cows Continue Drinking Water from the Pond On the Panel Discussion “Shared Heritage? Colonial Knowledge in History and the Present” at the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology, September 26, 2017

10. October 2017

by Michi Knecht

© Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg. Photos: Arne Bosselmann

The 205 seats of the patina-covered, large lecture hall of Hamburg’s Museum of Ethnology (Hamburger Völkerkundemuseum), built in 1912, with its all-around wood paneling, must have seldom been occupied to the last seat in recent years.[1] At the same time, more than 80 people who were no longer let in jostled in the foyer outside the doors. The museum, under the new Director, Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner, previously of the Vienna World Cultures Museum Wien and Yale University Art Gallery, had invited people to a discussion of “Colonial Knowledge in History and the Present”, and a large audience had come. Apparently, the educated classes currently display something like momentum, a new dynamic and intensity in dealing with the colonial “heritage” – after postcolonial activist groups and a few historians, ethnologists, and scientists from related fields fought so long and from a very marginalized position against “colonial amnesia” and apathy. That we also have to do with a colonial aphasia, a deep-seated political and societal, historically acquired, multimodal disturbance and destruction of language repeatedly became visible in the podium discussions and the audience debates. But at least in part, the invited podium guests brilliantly elaborated and commented on this colonial linguistic disturbance.

Anything but a Völkerkundemuseum [ethnographic museum] On the Current Concept Development of the Humboldt Forum

3. October 2017

by Viola König

“Be outraged, but publicly, please! Anthropology as a Science of Disturbance” – this was the title of a plenary session moderated by Cassis Kilian at the 2013 German Anthropological Society conference “Positionings: Anthropology in the Academy, the World of Work, and the Public Sphere” in Mainz, where I lectured on the then-current state of the Humboldt Forum. At the center of the discussion was the general complaint that the voice of cultural anthropology went unheard when it had something to say about central topics. Four years later, cultural anthropology, at least in the shape of its museums, is now at the center of public attention, but in a negative way. What has happened?

“No power for nobody” Let the exhibits speak at last

3. October 2017

by Bernhard Streck

The goal is accomplished. The establishment of the new Humboldt Forum has revived what Adolf Bastian was aiming at by founding the Ethnological Museum in the middle of the aspiring metropolis Berlin [in 1873], but which was buried under the bombshells of the Second World War. Bastian’s key concern was, however, to present the results of a worldwide active salvage anthropology, an attempt by the well educated bourgeoisie to save the fruits of various cultures before the colonial proceeding globalization could crush them. Today, on the other hand, there is nothing more to save than the idea of rescuing itself, which lives off the more knowledgeable than charitable form of recognition of the culturally different Other.

How to move on with Humboldt’s legacy? Re-thinking ethnographic collections

3. October 2017

by Anna Brus, Michi Knecht, Larissa Förster, Verena Rodatus, Ehler Voss and Martin Zillinger

The Humboldt Forum, which is currently being built in the middle of Berlin within the walls of the reconstructed Prussian Berlin Palace and will be hosting the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin from 2018, has become a focal point for debates on these matters in Germany. With the withdrawal of art historian Bénédicte Savoy from the international team of experts of the Humboldt Forum in summer 2017, the conflict reached a new and striking climax. Bénédicte Savoy regards the present shape of the Humboldt Forum as an uncritical continuation of the more than 300-year-old history of  colonial collections of “dirty tricks and hopes”, which are not spoken about or brought to the public, but held under a “lead lid” (Savoy 2017). Supporters and representatives of the Humboldt Forum, on the other hand, promise a democratic and cosmopolitan space for debating these questions and thereby make use of concepts such as “shared heritage” (Parzinger 2016).