About this blog
Ever since in 2002 the decision was made for the Ethnologische Museum Berlin to move into the reconstructed Prussian Berlin Palace, a remarkably controversial debate has been taking place about the role of ethnographic collections and the relevance of social and cultural anthropological content in the future Humboldt Forum. The debate reached an initial climax with the withdrawal of art historian Bénédicte Savoy from the international team of experts of the Humboldt Forum. Savoy criticized the lack of critical-historical engagement with these contested collections and the absence of institutional transparency, and attached this to a plea for more provenance research, especially with regard to collections which were acquired within colonial contexts.
Since then, representatives of the institutions involved in the Humboldt Forum, politicians in cultural policy and a few committed scholars have been discussing the aims, failures and intentions with regard to the Humboldt Forum in German feuilletons. So far social and cultural anthropologists have scarcely participated in this debate, despite the importance that the Humboldt Forum will have for the perception of ethnological work in the future and social and cultural anthropological perspectives in general, and although controversial discussions have been held on the repositioning of anthropological museums for many years.
This blog wishes to invite to a broader discussion – both within Social and Cultural Anthropology as well as between Social and Cultural Anthropology and its neighboring disciplines – about the Humboldt Forum and about the future of ethnographic collections in the German-speaking countries in general. Generating a trans- and international perspective on these questions is particularly vital for this debate. Therefore, selected blog contributions will be translated into English and interlocutors from the Global South, especially from the countries of origin of the ethnographic collections, will be invited wherever possible.
Anna Brus is lecturer and research fellow at the art history department, University of Cologne. Her research focuses on the history of science in art history and anthropology, anthropological collections and exhibition practices, and the discourse on global art. From 2012 to 2016 she was a DFG fellow at the Locating Media Research Training Group of the University of Siegen with the project “Colonial Art in Symmetrical Perspective: Julius Lips and the Inversion of the Gaze”. She is currently guest curator at the Johann-Jacobs Museum in Zürich (exhibition title “Among Whites” 2020/21) and co-curated “Spectral-White. The Appearance of Colonial Europeans” at the HKW (Haus der Kulturen, 2019/20) in Berlin and “The Savage Hits Back. Colonial-Era Depictions of Europeans in the Lips Collection” at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World in Cologne (2018).
Carl Deussen studied Liberal Arts at University College Freiburg and Museum Studies at the University of Amsterdam. He is currently working on his PhD at the University of Amsterdam and holds a research position at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne. His research is directed at the politics of affection in colonial ethnography and decolonisation processes in the contemporary ethnographic museum.
Michi Knecht holds a position as professor for Social Anthropology at Bremen University and is co-speaker of the interdisciplinary research platform “Worlds of Contradiction”. Her research focuses on interconnections between knowledge practices and social forms. At the intersections of Anthropology and STS, she has investigated reproductive technologies, political and religious movements, poverty, anonymity and new forms of kinship. Currently, she is trying to rethink problems of unrequited reciprocity in the context of object circulation under colonial rule and with post/colonial consequences, the history of object-extractivism, and post/colonial naturecultures.
Larissa Förster, PhD, is Head of the Department of Cultural Goods and Collections established in 2019 at the German Lost Art Foundation, and Associate Member of the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage at the Humboldt University, Berlin. She is a cultural and social anthropologist with a regional focus on Southern Africa and works on issues of postcolonial provenance and return with regard to artefacts and human remains. She co-edited „Museumsethnologie – Eine Einführung. Theorien – Praktiken – Debatten“ (2019) and „Provenienzforschung zu ethnografischen Sammlungen der Kolonialzeit. Positionen in der aktuellen Debatte“ (2018).
Gabriel Schimmeroth works as a curator and project coordinator at the Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) in Hamburg. As part of the MARKK in Motion programme funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, he is responsible for the experimental exhibition and discourses space “Zwischenraum – A Space Between”.
His research in anthropology and performance studies focuses on the processes of staging, whether it is a question of scenic devices (theatre, rituals, plastic arts, etc.), museum scenography or any situation that explicitly concerns a performance. He is particularly interested in research devices inspired by the ethnographic field, as they are developing today in but above all outside scientific institutions, especially in the arts. In association with the Institut für Ethnologie and the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne (Germany), he leads the teaching and research programme “Museum on the couch: creative and reflexive explorations of the ethnographic collections” since 2015. He is an associate member of the l’Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux sociaux (IRIS, EHESS, Paris) and coordinates the activities of CURIO (www.curioweb.org), a space for research in anthropology through art, and chairs the Ouvroir d’Anthropologie Potentielle. Since 2020, he has been teaching anthropology at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art d’Avignon (ESAA).
Ehler Voss is an anthropologist working on the interferences of medicine, media and religion. He is currently visiting professor at the Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research at the University of Bremen.
Martin Zillinger is Professor of Anthropology at the Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Cologne. He is interested in the history of anthropology (Mauss-Werkstatt), the study of media and practice theory. Principal Investigator at the Collaborative Research Center 1187 “Media of Co-operation” and the CRC 228 “Future Rural Africa”, he is also board member of the Global South Studies Center, Cologne. Working on new media and trance mediums since 2003, he has, together with the film maker and curator Anja Dreschke, collaborated with Sufi-brotherhoods on their video archives and trance practices for the exhibition “Animism” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp (2010), and the HKW, Berlin (2012).
(Translation by Ulrike Flader, University of Bremen)