Twenty-Three Objects from the Ethnologisches Museum Head to Namibia: Partnership Enters Next Phase

Ethnologisches Museum

Twenty-three objects from the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Ethnologisches Museum are heading to Namibia on 27 May 2022. As part of the project Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures – a research partnership with the Museums Association of Namibia (MAN) ­– these loans will be analysed and researched by Namibian colleagues. The objects include historical everyday objects, jewellery, tools and items of fashion, which were selected by a group of Namibian experts for their particular historical, cultural and aesthetic significance. The project is funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, and builds upon collaborative provenance research carried out in Berlin together with experts from Namibia. 

The Project „Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures”

This collaborative project seeks to explore the creative potential of the colonial collections from Namibia held by the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin and the National Museum of Namibia in Windhoek. It reunites the collections and transports them back to their societies of origin, while also reintroducing  them to researchers, artists and the general public in Namibia. Additionally, the project will also support the founding of a new museum – The Museum of Namibian Fashion – in the city of Otjiwarongo, Namibia. 

The project revolves around four central pillars: 

  • Collaborative provenance research on the Namibian collections at the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin and the production of an exhibition about the research process at the Humboldt Forum
  • The transportation of 23 objects from the Ethnologisches Museum to Namibia, based on the collaborative provenance research carried out in the initial phase of the project, which will then enter into a dialogue with the collections of the National Museum of Namibia
  • Running a workshop at the National Museum of Namibia featuring the objects from both museums with Namibian cultural heritage experts, researchers and contemporary artists, as well as carrying out research within cultural heritage communities right across Namibia, using digitised collections
  • Building the capacities of the National Museum of Namibia and MAN in the fields of conservation and restoration, digitalisation, curatorial practice and social engagement

The Namibia Collections of the Ethnologisches Museum

The historical collections from Namibia at the Ethnologisches Museum were mainly acquired during the German colonial period (1884–1919). The museum has been researching the provenance of these objects since the beginning of 2018, and since 2019 together with Namibian partners. The collections reflect colonial, and in some cases extremely violent, processes of appropriation. They also show the creativity and ingenuity of the Namibian people. The collections are thus an important resource for historical research as well as an inspiration for contemporary artists and designers. As a consequence of Germany’s colonisation of Namibia, the vast majority of such objects are located in German and non-Namibian institutions, and therefore inaccessible to most Namibians. This project, funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, is the first step in redressing this disparity, beginning with the objects’ journey to Namibia.