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The Estate of Leni Riefenstahl

Through a donation in 2018, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz received the complete estate of Leni Riefenstahl (1902–2003) consisting of films and photographs, manuscripts, letters, documents, ethnographica, textiles and film-related materials. The holdings, which are stored at the Kunstbibliothek and Ethnologisches Museum (both Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), the Staatsbibliothek and the Deutsche Kinemathek will be indexed in databases and digitised. A joint portal will make the holdings accessible to researchers and the public.

Leni Riefenstahl is one of the most famous and controversial artists in the history of German film and photography. Her biography spans the entire 20th century and is remarkable not only for its marked artistic creativity that lasted into her old age but also for the artist’s adaptability to various political systems. It is reflected in her archive, materials with which she worked with throughout her life. It is an archive that has been largely closed to critical research until now. The very extensive estate, which includes documents of varying extent from all phases of her life and work, is a unique biographical research source on her oeuvre.

The estate confronts the institutions managing the collection with a challenging ethical responsibility and related scholarly issues. Dealing with objects associated with problematic National Socialist topics or with gender-coded representations of Africans shaped by a colonial-primitivising view requires a high degree of sensitivity and critical reflection. Therefore, the cross-institutional cooperation is accompanied by an international scholarly advisory board. The publication of the collections in a joint online portal is intended to create a platform for dealing with this ‟difficult heritage”.

Academic team: Dr. Ludger Derenthal, Katrin Peters-Klaphake, Kunstbibliothek
Cooperation partners: Ethnologisches Museum, Staatsbibliothek – Handschriftenabteilung and the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek
Supported by: the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM)
Project duration: 2019 to 2024