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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?

Die Filme sind Teil des Outputs der SummerSchool “De-centering the Museum Lab”, die im April 2022 in Deutschland und im Juli 2022 in Kapstadt, Südafrika, stattfand.

Das Filmprojekt wurde kollaborativ umgesetzt zwischen Studierenden und Doktorant*innen der Institute für Ethnologie und Kunstgeschichte der Universität zu Köln, des Historischen Instituts der University of the Western Cape, Kapstadt und des Ethnologischen und Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts der Universität Bremen.

Öffnungszeiten RJM: Mo geschlossen, Di-So 10-18 Uhr, Do 10-20 Uhr, 1.Do im Monat: 10-22 Uhr, (an Feiertagen 10-18 Uhr)


Die Veranstaltung wird gefördert durch die Universität zu Köln, Institut für Ethnologie


re|despair – Painful encounters in German museums


Mai 31 2023 - Jun 11 2023


Mo geschlossen, Di-So 10-18 Uhr, Do 10-20 Uhr, 1.Do im Monat: 10-22 Uhr, (an Feiertagen 10-18 Uhr)


Cäcilienstraße 29-33 50676 Köln


European Conference on African Studies (ECAS)
  • Sprache: Englisch/Deutsch