Partnership Launched between the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin and the Museums Association of Namibia on Colonial Collection

18.09.2019
Ethnologisches Museum

Colonialism, Art, and Culture: Forward-looking partnership launched between the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin and the Museums Association of Namibia on colonial collection.

As part of a partnership between the Museums Association of Namibia (MAN) and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, several experts from Namibia have been guests at the Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, since spring 2019. Together with the museum's researchers, they examined the approximately 1400 objects in the museum from Namibia with respect to their history, significance, and artistic potential. In the subsequent project "Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures", made possible by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, 23 of these objects, including jewellery, prestige objects and historically important artifacts, will travel to Namibia. There they will be further explored over the next three years and will be available to contemporary artists for creative exploration. The Ethnologisches Museum and the Museums Association of Namibia have initiated an unprecedented, open-ended cooperation, which is largely steered by the Namibian partners.

The Collections of the Ethnologisches Museum from Namibia

The historical collections from Namibia in the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin were mainly acquired during the German colonial period (1884-1919). The museum has been researching their provenances since the beginning of 2018 and in recent months together with the Namibian visiting scholars. The collections reflect the often extremely violent processes of colonial appropriation. In addition, they show the creativity and ingenuity of the Namibian people. They are thus an important source for historical research as well as a source of inspiration for contemporary artists and designers. Due to the German colonisation of Namibia, the vast majority of such objects are in German and not Namibian institutions and are therefore not accessible to most Namibians. With the project financed by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, a first step is being taken, beginning with the objects' journey to Namibia, to remedy this imbalance. The greatest portion of the funds, amounting to around 400,000 Euros in total, will go towards work in Namibia.

Project "Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures"

In recent weeks, the Namibian partners have selected 23 objects from the collection from Namibia in the Ethnologisches Museum for loan to the National Museum of Namibia. This was done in close consultation with community representatives in Namibia. In addition to the Museums Association of Namibia, the National Museum of Namibia and the University of Namibia are also project partners. In Germany and in Namibia, cooperative research on the collections will be continued and made available to the public and stakeholders.

In Namibia, four workshops lasting several days are planned at the National Museum of Namibia. These workshops will reactivate and document knowledge associated with the objects and other forms of immaterial cultural heritage, such as historical techniques and materials. In addition, the Gerda Henkel Foundation will finance a conservator and a documentalist at the National Museum of Namibia and will support the museum with capacity building workshops and materials for the preventive conservation of its collection. Furthermore, the foundation will provide two scholarships at the University of Namibia that will allow postgraduates to transfer research from the museum to cultural heritage communities.

The inspirations sparked by the objects from Berlin will also contribute to a Museum of Namibian Fashion planned by the Museums Association of Namibia. In this context, other essential elements of the project are the production of works of art that relate to the historical collections, the appointment of a curator to design the opening exhibition of the Museum of Namibian Fashion, and the museum itself. The aim is to build capacities for the preservation and enhancement of collections in Namibia.

In an interview, the participants talk about the challenges and opportunities of the project.