Decolonizing Research, Cosmo-optimistic Collaboration?

Making Object Biographies

in Museum Worlds
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  • 1 Humboldt University Berlin margareta.von.oswald@hu-berlin.de
  • 2 Free University of Berlin verena.rodatus@fu-berlin.de
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ABSTRACT

In Germany, the new cultural center Humboldt Forum (to open in 2019) has become a major site of debate. It will include the contested collections of both the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art, which contributed to the negotiation of the role of colonial legacies and their reverberances on contemporary Germany. We took those contestations as a point of departure for the exhibition Object Biographies (2015), part of the program Humboldt Lab Dahlem designed to experiment with innovative displays for the Humboldt Forum. Here we reexamine our research collaboration with the Beninese art historian Romuald Tchibozo that was part of the exhibition. His call for the “decolonization of research” was the central guideline in our museum practice aiming for cosmo-optimistic futures. We argue that focusing on processes and questions engaged by the exhibition project can transform contested museum spaces to enable negotiations on ownership, representation, and memory politics.

Contributor Notes

MARGARETA VON OSWALD is a research assistant at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage, Berlin. She has studied anthropology and social sciences in Bordeaux, Stuttgart, and Paris. Her PhD dissertation (EHESS Paris; Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) analyzes the “making of” of the future permanent exhibitions for Berlin’s Humboldt Forum and Tervuren’s Royal Museum of Central Africa, which she contributed to and observed from 2013 to 2015. In 2015, she co-curated the exhibition Object Biographies with Verena Rodatus (Humboldt Lab Dahlem). Research interests include the negotiations of colonial pasts in the present, museum ethnographies, curatorship, and collections acquired on the African continent. E-mail: margareta.von.oswald@hu-berlin.de

VERENA RODATUS studied psychology and art history and has conducted research in West Africa since 2003. Her doctoral dissertation was published under the title “Postkoloniale Positionen? Die Biennale DAK’ART im Kontext des internationalen Kunstbetriebs.” She has worked for the Weserburg | Museum für moderne Kunst, the Africa department at the Ethnological Museum Berlin, and the Humboldt Lab Dahlem. Together with Margareta von Oswald, she co-curated the exhibition Object Biographies (2015). Since 2015, she has been lecturer and research associate in the Arts of Africa department at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her research focuses on contemporary art from Benin and oral art history. E-mail: verena.rodatus@fu-berlin.de

Museum Worlds

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