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re|despair – Painful encounters in German museums

Co-laboration and repair, restitution and healing have become commonplace phrases in German museum discourse on how to deal with colonial collections and the colonial past. A student group set out to discover the state-of-the-art in German museums that continue to host so-called ethnographic collections.

Instead of repair and healing, we found opulence and voids, silence, shame, anger and grief. We found centuries of violent and exploitative colonial history. We found archival strategies and curatorial techniques that continue to actively forget this history. We found cultural wealth far away from its original places of being. We found rich, complex, and nuanced historical legacies reduced to impersonal “objects” in glass cases.

We found well-meaning attempts to grapple with those pasts, and attempts to justify past and present work in the museum. We did not find ways to share our joint experiences with each other. And so we grew more and more silent.

With these films we want to document the difficulties we encountered: of collaborative research across painful colonial histories and different memory cultures, and of de-centering ways of knowing in a politically charged and defensive climate.

What are the costs of making voices heard?

The films are part of the output of the SummerSchool “De-centering the Museum Lab” held in Germany in April 2022 and in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2022.

The film project was realized collaboratively between students and doctoral candidates from the Institutes of Ethnology and Art History at the University of Cologne, the Institute of History at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, and the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Studies at the University of Bremen.

Opening hours RJM: Mon closed, Tue-Sun 10am-6pm, Thu 10am-8pm, 1st Thu in the month: 10am-2pm, (on holidays 10am-6pm)


The event is sponsored by the University of Cologne, Institute of Ethnology


re|despair – Painful encounters in German museums


May 31 2023 - Jun 11 2023


Mon closed, Tue-Sun 10am-6pm, Thu 10am-8pm, 1st Thu in the month: 10am-2pm, (on holidays 10am-6pm)
All Day



Program area

European Conference on African Studies (ECAS)
  • Language: English/German