Ringen um Rückgabe
Currently, this contribution exists only in the German version, translation under way.
The Puzzle of the Postcolonial Purse
Since the writing of this piece, the Amsterdam Museum of Bags and Purses has sadly been forced to close due to financial pressures exacerbated by the current crisis. This is a difficult time for all heritage organisations, and smaller institutions are always the most at risk. The closing of the Museum of Bags and Purses […]
We talk, you listen!
Currently, this contribution exists only in German, translation to follow. Francis La Flesche, 1857-1932. This photograph is available courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (Photograph 4504).
The Ethics of Repatriation and Working Collaboratively in Aotearoa New Zealand
The return of human remains back to descendant communities and countries of origin is a growing and developing part of museology throughout the world. Fifty years ago returning human remains or even cultural objects was almost unheard of. But in 2019 the return of ancestral remains and objects is increasingly becoming the norm. In Aotearoa […]
What options do we have for dealing with the Africa collections in our museums in Europe and in Africa? Let us start with a quote from Malcolm McLeod, keeper of the Department of Ethnography of the British Museum from 1974-1990: Museums are expected to collect things, yet museum collecting, in some cultures, need not be […]
The Fundamental Problem of Ethnography and Colonialism
Through 6 January 2020 in the House of World Cultures in Berlin, one can still visit two exhibitions that have several things in common. The first is not unusual, but rather everyday museum practice. Both exhibitions are devoted to the work of dead, white, German men. “Spectral White: The Appearance of Colonial-Era Europeans” deals with […]
Colonial Collectors and their Legacy
At the time of writing, the conference Museum Collections in Motion lies only weeks in the past and its impacts, its questions and discussions still move me. For all its moments of connection and shared ideals, it was not a harmonious conference. Especially in the beginning, it seemed like mistrust could win over and end […]
The Brachiosaurus brancai in the Natural History Museum Berlin
This contribution deals with the area of natural history, a field which to date has remained outside the focus of the research and debates surrounding looted art and the theft of cultural assets and has scarcely featured as a topic in the history of remembrance. The focus here is on a scientific object, the skeleton […]
VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 3 – Visions for the future
[Please find our collected voices from day one here and from day two here.] A very moving Day Two begged the question of how to conclude the conference. From our perspective, the question of how to move on, how to end a meeting like this, remained open. We do not know how the momentum of […]
VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 2 – Getting to the core
[Please find the collected voices from day one here.] Day two of the conference “Museum Collections in Motion” offered an insight into curating practices from different places. Among others, Malick Ndiaye gave a talk on his work as curator for the Theodore Monod Mueseum of African Art in Dakar, Senegal in which he described the […]
VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 1 – Are academics asking the right questions?
The Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne has an impressive entrance hall: the ceiling is so high that it almost feels like being outside. Glass, dark brick stone walls, a shiny stone floor. For three days the museum is hosting the conference ‘Museum Collections in Motion’ (15-17 July 2019) that promises ‘colonial and postcolonial encounters’. The organizers are […]
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
(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 […]
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 […]
Tribal Displays: Colonial Repositories and Community Reconciliation
The practices of a new museology have recently raised debates involving public forums and dialogues. However, these transformation processes have also sought to rethink museum practices in remaking persons and remaking society. The practice of displaying ethnic groups in the museum builds on the debates of decolonising museums especially of those having ethnographic artefacts. Having […]
Through the looking glass (excerpt)
Photographs as pdf prolog-ausstellung.info Anja Nitz is a Berlin based artist and photographer. Born in Hamburg (1971) she studied at Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee. In her work she deals with socially relevant institutions and she conceptually potrays the related buildings. Among others she has worked on the Berlin Charité Hospital and several important Berlin Embassies, the […]
Mal D’Archives Revisited or Archive Evils from a Postcolonial Perspective. An Obstructed View
 In the current public debate about the restitution of non-European cultural legacy, one gap (among diverse others) is especially conspicuous: the conditions of the search for the Herkunft (provenience) and provenience are systematically disregarded. Postcolonial provenience research has been pointing this out for thirty years; accordingly, the various persons who have recently expressed themselves […]
Wessen Recht für wen?
This article is currently only available in German. A translation is being prepared.
Eurocentrism still sets the terms of restitution of African art
This comment was first published in the journal The Art Newspaper and later translated into German for this blog. The original post in The Art Newspaper can be found HERE. The German translation on this blog can be found HERE.
Reversal of the gaze
The reversal of the gaze – whether in anthropology or in art history –, is neither a banal nor a simple undertaking. Both the ability to reverse the gaze and the practiced reversal of the gaze are necessary conditions for the critical inquiry of the interrelatedness of contemporary power relations and the production of knowledge. […]
The ‘Restitution Report’
This review gives an overview of the first reactions to the so-called ‘restitution report’ handed in to French president Emmanuel Macron on Nov 23, 2018 by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy. The debate and reactions in politics, museums, academia, but also from the art market have been polarized and emotionally charged. Starting with first reactions […]
“The truth is that Europe has taken something from us, which it will never be able to return”*
*Translation from French by Michael Dorrity Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr have finally delivered President Emmanuel Macron with a report concerning the restitution of African objects currently held in French museums. For understandable historic reasons, Emmanuel Macron had limited the reach of the mission to previous territories over which the Republic had exercised responsibility. It […]
by Larissa Förster Translation: Mitch Cohen In the debate about colonial provenances and the restitution of objects from German museums to formerly colonized countries there is always an elephant in the room. The elephant is the law – when we are dealing with a “context of injustice”, the question whether this is or should be […]
Everything Must Go: Looting the Museum as Compensation for Looting the World
Preliminary Remarks on: Felwine Sarr/Bénédicte Savoy, „The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics“ (November 2018). http://restitutionreport2018.com Marx was right, but we can delve deeper into his famous dictum from „The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte“. History does not repeat itself by alternating from tragedy to farce. Farce is the covering of […]
A Human Skull for Sale: Is this possible?
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 […]
Das Kulturerbe Benins auf dem Prüfstand der Zeit
Currently, this contribution exists only in the German version, translation under way.
Aquí leen la versión en castellano 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 […]
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, […]
Ethnological Collections and Municipal Displays
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 […]
*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. […]
Durch den Tunnel der Kritik zum Weitblick
Currently, this contribution exists only in the German version, translation under way.
The pitfalls of ‘shared heritage’
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 […]
Sometimes it needs a sensation to draw public and media attention to a problem that otherwise only experts are concerned with. Emmanuel Macron succeeded in doing so when on November 27th 2017 in Ouagadoudou he declared his intention to create “the conditions for a temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa within the […]
In Berlin, history is tangible. It strikes me every time I visit the city. Empty plots, fading shop signs, and crumbling facades bear witness to the city’s tumultuous past. Monuments bear scars. The bronze reliefs of the Siegessäule (moved to its current location by the Nazis) are pockmarked with 1945 bullet holes. After Germany’s reunification, […]
The museum of liberation
“Nothing is more galvanizing than the sense of a cultural past. This at least the intelligent presentation of African Art will supply to us.” – Alain Locke, A Note on African Art, Opportunity, May 2, 1924 In his forward to the catalogue for the exhibition Blondiau – Theatre Arts Collection of Primitive African Art, which was […]
What do we know when we see?
Museums that have built collections of “world cultures”, known to us today as either ethnological or the more encompassing, encyclopedic museums, have not ceased to be the subject of impassioned debates. Even a cursory glance through the diverse and insightful contributions to this blog give us a sense of the poles along which deliberations over […]
“Dialogue” and “Collaboration” with “Source Communities”
*Translated by Jonathan DeVore and Julian Schmischke Ethnological museums and collections occupy a special position within the museum landscape. One of the reasons for this is that many contemporary descendants of the communities from which the collections originate seek feedback from these collections. In this respect, these institutions have a new, particular user group, the […]
Humboldt Forum, Anthropology, and Cultural Heritage
Cultural heritage is the claim of a more or less exclusive collective ownership of material and/or immaterial cultural capital, whose origin in located in the past, which contributes to the construction of a group’s identity. This basically holds for all present and past societies of the world, although they differ from one another in the […]
Last fall, when the editors of this blog asked me to join their discussions about the Humboldt Forum, I declined. They explained that they wanted to broaden the debate by bringing in outside views. They thought I would be a good candidate, given my past work on the history of German ethnology and ethnographic museums. […]
What is a devolution?
Reading the contents in this blog (the ones I could read, since I don’t speak German), it struck me that, while a lot of debates in museums have been organized in terms of repatriation, in Brazil I have often heard a different term: devolution or return. So when I received an invitation to contribute to […]
Why has the ethnographic museum run out of steam?
Please allow me to begin with a Latourian digression to frame what I want to say about the current debates over ethnographic museums. “What has become of critique,” Bruno Latour asked almost fifteen years ago, “when an editorial in the New York Times contains the following quote? Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused […]
Parzinger’s misconceptions and misrepresentations of the restitution of African artefacts
“The restitution of those cultural objects which our museums and collections, directly or indirectly, possess thanks to the colonial system and are now being demanded, must also not be postponed with cheap arguments and tricks.” Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause. In an interview dated February 2018, Dr Herrmann Parzinger, repeating […]
The Poisoned Museum
Recevoir est reçu The Edda/ M. Mauss 1 In an article in the 25 January issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the President of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Parzinger, took up Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion: artefacts that came to Europe in the colonial context should be exhibited in the site of their origin. In the […]
Photographs and colonial history in the museum
In Britain colonial history has, uncharacteristically, been headline news recently. This is not merely a post-Brexit vote sensitivity (well what is our history?), although this might be a deeply buried part of the narrative. There are growing concerns about the visual conditions and public engagement with Britain’s colonial past. First were the demands from post-colonial […]
The Beauty of the Transient
The times of rupture which ethnological museums are currently undergoing raise a number of issues at the same time: pleas for conceptual renewal as well as resistance against it; the question of how to deal with the colonial provenance of collections, which is followed by the debates about restitution. Many of these questions would have […]
More Ethnology – or rather Social and Cultural Anthropology?
Time is moving on: in 2019, the Humboldt Forum, currently the “biggest and financially most ambitious project of German federal cultural policy”, will open in the heart of Germany’s capital. In the view of the organizers, it will/should become a site of encounter, in which “cultures engage in dialog as equals”, in order to “acknowledge […]
Basket, Earthenware Jug, Cross
The baskets rebelled: “‘Humans deal with us very poorly. When they no longer need us, they throw us away. Animals step all over us, the pigs and dogs. Then they throw us in the fire and burn us. I propose that we hide from the humans.’ […] They emptied themselves and left the house. After […]
Collateral Damage. A Polemic
“Europe is a master of criticism. If it doesn’t criticize, it disappears. What it fears most is nonexistence. I tried to criticize it, too, because it demanded this from me, but I wasn’t able. At most, I could repeat its self-criticism.” These sentences by the Japanese author Yoko Tawada occurred to me when I read […]
‘Cannibals’ with Chestpains
A Pacific Presences Workshop meeting at Cambridge in July of this year revealed an estimated 250,000 Oceanic artifacts available in numerous German Völkerkunde museums. The astonishment behind this number is twofold: 1. Most of these objects were collected during a relatively short time (roughly between the years of 1870 to 1914). 2. Comparatively speaking German […]
Overcoming Distances and Boundaries
The recent debates around the Humboldt Forum in Berlin have drawn attention to various challenges related to the many ethnographic collections in German museums and other institutions (e.g. archives, universities). The existence of the ethnographic collections, their contents and histories crystallise new questions about Europe’s present and past position in the world. How were these […]
Pompeii in Africa
In October 1894, the German colonial forces conquered Kalenga, the fortress and residence of the ruler of the Hehe, Mkwawa, who had resisted the German conquest in the mainland of what is Tanzania today, for almost a decade. The colonial troops set the town on fire. According to Friedrich von Schele, governor of German East […]
Questions Beyond the Humboldt Forum
Berlin Culture Senator Lederer’s remark, “Ethnology is just beginning to deal with its history” (Viola König in her blog contribution of 3 Oct. 17) stands for the uninformed opinions of other politicians, as well. But science’s historical experience has accustomed it to such talk and led it to put up with such false depictions of […]
Into the Whirlpool
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 […]
Into the Whirlpool
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 […]
“No power for nobody”
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 […]
How to move on with Humboldt’s legacy?
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 […]