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Book Launch – Humboldt Lab Tanzania on 25 June 2018

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

Since July 2016, the projects Humboldt Lab Tanzania and Tanzania–Germany: Shared Objects Histories? saw researchers from the Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin work together with Tanzanian artists, researchers and other experts to investigate the histories of objects from Tanzania in the museum’s collection.

The outcome has provided the impulse for the conception of future provenance research projects on collections from the colonial era and have also influenced the design of the exhibition module on German colonialism in East Africa at the Humboldt Forum. In Tanzania, the outcome of the Humboldt Lab Tanzania was creatively presented to a broad audience through the travelling exhibition Living Inside the Story.

The project Humboldt Lab Tanzania has been documented and the initial research outcomes summarised in a new, trilingual publication (English, German and Kiswahili) with Reimer Verlag titled Humboldt Lab Tanzania: Objects from the Colonial Wars in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin – A Tanzanian-German Dialogue. (For the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, edited by Lili Reyels, Paola Ivanov and Kristin Weber-Sinn, 398 pages, hardcover, ISBN 978-3-496-01591-8, €59.00) 

Event Book Launch with discussion

  • Monday, 25 June 2018, 6 p.m.
  • Museen Dahlem, Lansstraße 8, 14195 Berlin

The Research Project

The research project Tanzania–Germany: Shared Object Histories? Is the starting-point of an investigation of selected groups of objects from about 10,000 objects within the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum originating from what today is mainland Tanzania. The project began with the classic questions of provenance research: What are the biographies of these objects? Who were the previous owners and potential intermediaries? How did the individual objects come to the museum’s possession? This also raises the question of the role and meaning of objects in colonial encounters and power relations. The initial focus was placed on objects that entered the museum in a context of violent appropriations and colonial wars, including objects that were looted by the Germans during the Maji Maji War (1905–1907). In 1907, the governorate of “German East Africa” in Dar es Salaam sent over 1800 kg of objects (designated as “spoils of war”) to the museum in Berlin. But even the objects taken in the course of wars bear evidence of the resistance and agency of the local African populations, and the fragility of German colonial rule. In a second step, the project asks how the different sides’ interpretations of the objects have shifted historically over the course of the colonial and postcolonial eras. Accordingly, the interrogation of the history of the Tanzania Collection is to take place in cooperation with Tanzanian partners. 

The project Humboldt Lab Tanzania – which was closely linked with the research project – was launched with a conference at the Goethe Institute in Dar es Salaam in November 2016, and also involved fieldwork by academics from the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) on the sites of origin of selected objects. In addition to this, the Tanzanian artists Amani Abeid, Nicholas Calvin Mwakatobe, Douglas Kahabuka and Pia Rutaiwa visited the Ethnologisches Museum and its storage depots. They then looked at possible forms of (re)presenting sensitive objects during a residency in the studios of the Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam, and developed their own artistic responses. In collaboration with the National Museum and House of Culture in Dar es Salaam, the findings, perspectives and artistic works resulting from the project were presented in early 2017 in the travelling exhibition Living Inside the Story – Humboldt Lab Tanzania, at locations such as the National Museum and House of Culture, the University of Dar es Salaam and the Maji Maji Memorial Museum in Songea. 

Tanzania–Germany: Shared Object Histories?

  • Project Manager: Dr Paola Ivanov (Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
  • Research Associate: Kristin Weber-Sinn (Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
  • Museum Studies Expert: Hendryk Ortlieb (Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
  • Cooperation Partners: University of Dar es Salaam, Department of History; National Museum of Tanzania
  • Supported by: Kuratorium Preußischer Kulturbesitz 

Humboldt Lab Tanzania

  • Project Manager: Dr Paola Ivanov (Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
  • Curator, Project Manager for Tanzania: Dr Lili Reyels (Dar es Salaam/Berlin)
  • Cooperation Partners: Bookstop Sanaa: Visual Art Library & Creative Learning Space in Dar es Salaam; University of Dar es Salaam; National Museum and House of Culture, Dar es Salaam, Maji Maji Museum, Songea; Goethe Institute Tanzania
  • Project supported by: German Federal Cultural Foundation through TURN – Fund for Artistic Cooperation between Germany and African Countries, and the Kuratorium Preußischer Kulturbesitz