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Fait accompli? In Search of Actions for Postcolonial Injunctions. An Introduction to the Special Issue “Afterlives” edited by Artefakte//anti-humboldt

by Brigitta Kuster, Dierk Schmidt and Regina Sarreiter
18 Nov 2013 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Afterlives [11] | Editorial

Forgotten Forgetting

The afterlife of the colonial era in Germany, i.e. the ruins of imperial culture, are present and often very visible, whether in places, architecture, museums, names, stories; but they are covered by a layer of ignorance: their presence suppressed, they have no place in the official collective consciousness of German society; they never became “Erinnerungsorte” (realms of memory)–in the sense of the three volume book series “Deutsche Erinnerungsorte”,[1] a sequel to Pierre Nora’s famous “lieux de mémoire”. However, one can wonder whether colonial history could ever be able to generate such realms of memory within what is currently (re)formed and formulated as a post-colonial presence in Europe; except perhaps as the scene of a more or less explicit and self-reflexive remembrance; and carried by a nostalgic colonial impetus that ignores how the processes of Europeanization are connected with colonial history and the present. Even in the commercial almanacs of the 1920s, after German territorial occupations in Asia, Africa and Oceania had been brought to an end by the war, the beginning of the Berlin Africa Conference was still hailed as a commemoration day for that civilization project proclaimed at its inception. In such a post-colonial genealogy–as we would see it–it seems particularly remarkable that to date a collective social relation to colonialism has yet to emerge in Germany.[2]

In Berlin you can find monuments commemorating every kind of historical event: the city has become a sort of graveyard of steles, sculptures, engravings. Public discourse is still dominated by questions of how to approach the city built during National Socialism: should places that were of key political importance during this time be rebuilt, renovated and used again, or not? And if so, how? Reference to National Socialism, or rather to the destruction of Second World War–as will be clear from our two image contributions ‘Staging with Artefacts–Production of History on the Museum Island in Berlin’, Part 1 and Part 2 – seems to be the quintessential trope of German historicity. In recent years, however, an effort has been made to re-evaluate the architecture of 19th century Prussia in its historicity–until the 1990s, its manifestations were still discredited for their proximity to National Socialism due to their implicit continuity with Germany’s role as a great power. In this regard, the reconstruction of the Prussian City Palace in the centre of the city at the site of the demolished Palace of the GDR marked a paradigm shift; however, any reference to projects of (Prussian) colonial history is still taboo. For when it comes to the colonial past, its presence in the city seems to be blanked out–i.e. not only bombed to oblivion and never reconstructed or re-erected, but also absent in its whole colonial referentiality, just as if Wilhelmine Germany had never pursued a colonial project. A good example here would be the Pergamon Museum; built between 1910 and 1930, its monumental imperial size was intended not only to compete with London and Paris but also, according to Malte Fuhrmann, to represent a “cultural colonization”: German archaeology would compensate for the lack of colonial successes in the East, while an “Athens on the Spree”[3] would help secure its role.[4]

This absence of an historical consciousness of colonialism reflects a particular form of forgetting the forgotten prevalent in Germany and Berlin.[5] It certainly has much to do with the dominance of World War II in the national politics of memory, which has served to obscure the relevance of the colonial experience and genealogies of colonial longings. In addition, a strangely unrealised anti-colonialism is in evidence,[6] perhaps on account of Germany having to cede its colonial territories to the European colonial powers after the First World War (to France and England as League of Nations mandates). It was in Berlin, after all, where the infamous Africa Conference took place in 1884/85–a pivotal moment in history, not only for the African continent.[7] Since this event is still of international significance, one could reasonably expect this to be reflected in the cityscape of Berlin. But if you take a walk through the centre of Berlin and pass Wilhelmstraße 92, you won’t notice any significant buildings or monuments–the only trace you may find is a small plaque erected, not by the municipality, but on the initiative of a local Berlin based association, the Afrika-Forum e.V.[8] Indeed, it is almost impossible to find places where the colonial past is explicitly mentioned or inscripted, with the exception perhaps of some street names that still honour mostly male colonialists who were part of the state administration or the army, such as Nachtigall, Peters, Wissmann etc.[9] However, it is our contention that there are certain events that can disturb this situation, triggered and provoked by constellations of objects and people bringing history to the surface–sometimes even unintentionally.

Activation I: Scratching the Surface, Excavating and Laying Bare Strata

One recent such incident was the return to Namibia in October 2011 of twenty human skulls that had been brought to Berlin as scientific objects in the early 20th century–as described in Larissa Förster’s contribution (“These skulls are not enough” – The Repatriation of Namibian Human Remains from Berlin to Windhoek in 2011). Förster’s contribution describes in detail this handover and its two stages: firstly, the events in Berlin, with their attendant conflicts and open ends; and secondly, the reception in Windhoek in Namibia and the related discussions there. In the course of this repatriation procedure, the skulls materialized into active witnesses of the cruelties of colonial rule and practice that had been hidden, suppressed, forgotten, ignored–a process which we refer to as “activation”,[10] a move from the object as a passive given fact, i.e. a “givenness”, to a counterpart invested with agency.[11] When the skulls became visible, literally from out of the depths of a forgotten archive, a debate soon ensued among a public appalled and affected by what had been disavowed for so long;[12] and the debate was further fuelled by action from antiracist groups and organizations comprising peoples of African descent, as well as by a broad critical news coverage. Our thesis is that such objects of colonial acquisition play a central role in such processes–it is precisely at moments such as these, when they emerge into the public eye through a change of location or depository that they develop a force towards uncertainty and a redefinition of their meaning and context. Such activations of the object world of colonial provenance and facets of the effects they engender form a common thread running through almost all the contributions to this issue. The concern we wish to raise and to voice here is that the colonial facts are in no sense accomplished, and that in fact there is again a need to confront them, especially here in Germany: the artefacts that have been created, acquired, interpreted and displayed in the course of European colonial projects need to be urgently reconsidered, and their configuration and significance renegotiated.


In addition to the return of twenty skulls to Namibia, the long-term planning of the so-called Humboldt-Forum, stretching from 2002 to 2019, in our view represents another such moment of potential activation. From the beginning, the creation and activity of our group, Artefakte / / anti-humboldt–the somewhat casual and provocative name is programmatic for our focus and interest as “activists”–centred on the fabrication and status of matters, things or objects;[13] and, after lengthy preparatory work and planning, on the production of the present magazine. As we write this introduction,[14] the foundation is being laid for the building which will house the Humboldt-Forum–a magically theatrical act of state combined with a Christian blessing. This will form the prelude to a further enactment that embraces the restorative reconstruction of the three ugliest facades of the Prussian Berlin City Palace (bombed in the Second World War and subsequently completely demolished in 1950), together with the migration of the Ethnological Museum, the Museum of Asian Art, and the university collections of the Humboldt University as well as parts of the Central and Regional Library. As Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, expressed it at the recent foundation stone laying ceremony for the Humboldt-Forum: “It is no longer possible to conceive of such a grand project” (as the expansion of the so called Museum Island) “without all cultures being involved”. This understanding of culture or cultures envisages the Humboldt-Forum as being responsible for so-called non-European–an historically loaded and extremely fuzzy category that arose not least in the context of collecting, shipping, and exhibiting which has formed part of the colonial project since the Baroque. For example, one can trace a direct line between the much-vaunted cabinet of curiosities of the Berlin Palace–which in the initial designs inspired by Horst Bredekamp’s work[15] was intended to provide the inspiration for the heart of the Humboldt-Forum[16]–and the former German fortress of Großfriedrichsburg (in present-day Ghana) and the triangular trade with Brandenburg-Prussia.[17] And one can dare to predict that the docking of the Humboldt-Forum at the five institutions of the Museum Island, which represent national and European art and culture, will certainly widen the gap between those artefacts which are already accommodated in Berlin Mitte and those artefacts–of a cultural history that is qualified as non-European–destined for relocation. A more detailed historical overview and a critical discussion of the development of the Humboldt-Forum from a museological perspective can be found in the opening text by Friedrich von Bose (The Making of Berlin’s Humboldt-Forum: Negotiating History and the Cultural Politics of Place).

In 2010 we organised a first screening with commentary at the emptied Schlossplatz in Berlin, next to the then resident temporary Kunsthalle and the site of the Humboldt-Box (an information box for the palace and the Humboldt-Forum project) and the excavations for the scarcely extant foundations of the palace. On exactly the same day as our evening event that we dubbed “Mummy movies on the Schlossplatz”,[18] a moratorium on the construction of the palace due to financial shortages after the financial crisis of 2008 was announced. Today we remember that suspension as a merely temporary episode along the doggedly consistent path of this restorative project; in the interim, such an action in the neighbourhood of the now consolidated construction site would be completely unthinkable. Then still a bit terrain vague, we managed to use the Schlossplatz as a projection location on shaky ground–as a projection screen for the mummy. The mummy deals with the liminality of the concept of “artefact”. As a colonial/Egyptomanian appropriated dead body–through forceful grave opening and illegitimate de-contextualisation–the mummy opens up a field of attraction and conflict between subject (human) and object (not human); death and life; nature and culture; art and religion or rite; real and representation; display and performance. We further explore these tensions and conflicts in our contribution “Rise, for you will not perish” (on mummymania).

The Mummy as a Cinematographic Chronotope

For us, the role of the mummy in films was of particular interest as a useful means of exploring sites such as the museum or the laboratory which are more traditionally associated with mummies. This location of mummy formation or unveiling can be illustrated by the tradition of the in/famous so called mummy unwrappings in the Victorian era in England: practically devoid of scientific value, they even became popular party events. However, in most cases, the origin of the mummy is a funeral chamber that first has to be opened up. In film, the Victorian fantasy of an Egyptian burial chamber corresponds to the dark room in which a phenomenon begins to emerge and stand out. What then occurs is a sexually and racially bizarre metamorphosis of things and bodies through fragmentation, regeneration and multiplication–as can be seen for instance in Walther R. Booth’s silent movie “The Haunted Curiosity Shop” (1901). Here, activation equals magic, and magic is about the ability of the organic body to change over time, to vary and deviate: the movement of matter, substance in motion, materia as moved and visualized by cinema. Thus, the mummy in film to some extent runs counter to the idea of a corpse or dead matter. Rather, film seems to prove that things are not objective, but movement patterns, that they too have a duration–in other words, film in itself could be conceptualized as a moving mummy, the movie as a kind of ghost town, the screen as a shroud…[19] The birth of cinema is therefore related to the promise of mental or geographical trips: time travel through hitherto little or unknown areas guided by marvels and tricks. Within this new time ratio, deep past and archaeology, that is the legacy of ancient Egypt, is linked to the West; while the contemporary element is usually associated with the Other, the barbarians. Contemporary Egypt in these films is thus not uncommonly characterized by the angry male Arab, who is driven by instincts, devoid of any discipline and reason. It is such relations in particular which have prompted us to address the figure of the mummy, not just as a film character but also, inspired by the concept of Mikhail Bakhtin, as a “cinematographic chronotope” as we call ita concept with which we try to capture a particular configuration of post/colonial time and space in which the film strip within a roll of film can be regarded as a mummy, its projection as time regained.

There clearly is a general coincidence between cinema and colonial occupation–as for instance Ella Shohat has shown in several of her publications.[20] But even more than this, the appearance of a mummy or the opening of the tomb is part of the political and scientific conquest and exploitation of the Orient by the West, not only in a figurative but also in a very literal sense. The spectacular excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb by a British expedition from 1923-33 marks the beginning of a new era of Egyptomania, be it for science or for the visual politics of representation. The whole process of the excavation was photographically preserved, and the head of the expedition, Howard Carter, produced a meticulous description, which from then on served as a sort of a blueprint for the visual narrative and the plot of mummy films. This is also the historical moment when the narrative tradition of the mummy’s curse begins to replace the earlier cinematic themes of strangeness, mystery, and chimera, which had until then characterized mummy films. Disturbed by the excavators’ endeavours and reawakened or better activated by means of the scientific expertise of the archaeologist–the archaeologist, thriving on or rather spawned by late 19th century and early 20th century Egyptomania–the mummy takes revenge for the desecration of the tomb, often seeking vengeance for a violent end suffered in ancient times. This new figure of the mummy is often depicted on its way to the museum; and it is significant that it then becomes disparate and dangerously destructive towards its context, resistant towards being put on display as an artefact. The activation of the mummy as a consequence of its/his/her decontextualization and displacement can figure the embodiment of an immortal resistance against reification and objectification. At the same time, most films only reach a satisfying and concluding completion when the mummy is reduced to dust and completely dematerializes–most often in a brilliant closing scene of disintegration.[21]

However, there is yet another striking link for the narrative of mummy films, namely the one between imperialism, archaeology and psychoanalysis. Historically, the invention of archaeology as a scientific discipline in search of the “roots of civilization” is closely connected to imperialism, and the topic of the trip to such origins becomes parallelized with those gateways to the “internal colonies of the self” in the journeys undertaken in psychoanalysis. In Karl Freund’s famous film “The Mummy” (1932), this becomes particularly evident in a kind of battle of wits between the psychoanalyst and the archaeologist concerning the question of how to deal with the mummy, and how to research his/its/her secrets. Obviously it is not quite clear which form of knowledge or discipline (and if the discipline has to be a scientifically qualified one) is competent to decide what to do with the mummy perceived as terrain vague.[22] This film also clearly references Sigmund Freud’s analogy between the psychoanalyst and the archaeologist, both rescuing and excavating buried domains or cities. And here it should also be noted that the mummy is usually implicitly defined as masculine, while the role of women in mummy films very often consists in being either a medium for the mummy’s attempt to free itself–thus a kind of cultural translator–or the bearer of a special knowledge that she can’t use without the support of the western male. Thus, there is not only this kind of subcutaneous bond between young, unmarried, white or métisse woman and the mummy against the white male, but very clearly a parallel can also be drawn between the chercher la femme and the research on mummies.[23]

Activation II: Freezing, Mummyfying and the Life of Revenants

Our interest in the visual spaces related to mummies is not only guided by the manner of acquisition–be it an illegitimate or questionable appropriation–or of shipment and circulation; but also by the paralyses that it experiences as a representation in the museum, a place which during the 19th century witnessed a rise in significance at the international level–between New York, Paris, Hanoi, Batavia or Cairo. The museum, in accordance with Michel Foucault, can be seen as a site that belongs to our modernity and as an idea of “constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages,” that is a typical example of a “heterotopia of an endlessly accumulating time”.[24] As per Foucault, heterotopias are “linked to slices in time–which is to say that they open onto what might be termed, for the sake of symmetry, heterochronies”. In what follows, we try to bring such ruptures in traditional time flows into correspondence with some of the ideas that André Bazin explores in his famous text “The ontology of the photographic image” (written in 1945 and published in the first volume of “What is Cinema?”).[25] Here, Bazin addresses the origin of plastic arts as a “mummy complex”[26]–in his view an eternal human obsession, a fundamental psychic need to reverse the finality of death: “to keep up appearances in the face of the reality of death by preserving flesh and bone”.[27] Probing this call for immortality, André Bazin analyzes photography as embalming time and the specificity of the cinematographic image as mummyfying the irreversible flow of time and striving intensely for “resemblance, or if you will, of reality”,[28] as he puts it. In Bazin’s understanding, film is the asymptote to reality; according to him, the essence of film can be expressed by the analogy of the process of moulding a death mask or making a fingerprint. Thus, film is no longer a content to preserve an object, rather “the image of things is likewise the image of their duration, change mummified as it were.”[29] Thus if we adhere to Bazin, film represents “objectivity in time”[30] and, despite the animated effect of moving images, it is about loss. And here again we can encounter the museum as a space for objectified and reified remnants of a lost past and–in exponentiation–with the mummy in the museum as a double break with the traditional time of the finality of death and the quasi eternity of accumulated time.

Considered from this perspective, and in a way contrary to the argument developed above, the mummy signifies not so much a chronotopic relationship but the very configuration of a cultural perception in which immobility seems to be a precondition for appearance and emergence. And the more the mummy metaphor in Bazin’s ontology divests itself of the historical context of western imperial mummy-fascination, the more it evokes an anthropological invariable. But although Bazin’s ontology starts from the assumption of a pre-film reality that is mechanically recorded by film, the reality transmission between film as “change mummyfied, as it were”[31] and reality is not an ontological act, but a psychological or social one: “The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discoloured, no matter how lacking in documentary value the image may be, it shares; by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model”.[32] To be sure, the lifeline of film enables a preservation of the temporal physical reality for the perceiving subject, but it is also tied to the subjective processes of perception, involvement, or commitment. Such investment or the importance of “being oriented”, to borrow Sara Ahmed’s term by means of which she develops a queer phenomenology,[33] might prove useful for further reflections on matter taking form, matter moving around, but also, and most importantly, on how things come to matter. “Orientation might shape how matter ‘matters’”[34] is Sara Ahmed’s both simple and far-reaching watchword. It could help to focus and dis/place a kind of seemingly irreducible categorial difference of the mummy in comparison with other objects and artefacts on display–despite its artefaction,[35] the mummy in the museum steps out and represents a skeleton in the closet. Perception or our being oriented makes the mummy a revenant. And this is precisely why from his or her perspective the museum can become a modern or alternative counter-place-like burial chamber. Thus, the museum can not only be inhabited but also appropriated by the mummy. Invented as a museum piece at the beginning of the industrial era, when the recovery of mummified matter (i.e. coal) served to a large extent as the basis of industrial development, and as a trope in Western literature, the mummy also represents a resistant body of energy directed against the dominant system of value that has persisted until today. And of course further questions could and should be raised about connections between the energy of fuel and the activation of the mummy as a result of injury; or concerning the relation between nation building and the enduring restlessness of mummies in museums–as Elliott Colla puts it using the example of Shadi Abd al-Salam’s film “Al-Mumyia” (1969): “The cultivation of normative social relations between modern Egyptians and the objects of ancient Egypt is inseparable from the nationalist project of forming ethical, aesthetic citizen-subjects.”[36] Colla’s argument, strongly illustrated by Shadi Abd al-Salam’s extremely unsettling film, guides us towards an even more trenchant understanding of the figure of mummy: now it is not only about a demarcation between object and subject, or a metaphor for a media event or translation setting in a visual space, but an historical moment when the function of art becomes globally modified and market-driven; where the mummy as liminality also begins to allude to a twisted citizenship related to the concept of denizen of today’s society of control; that is, something and someone who dwells in a place where she or he lacks recognition.

The Mummy as an Aesthetic Boundary Object

Our understanding of the mummy bears a close relationship to recently developed concepts for addressing matter and things developed by so called new materialism approaches that try to overcome the categorial difference between constructivism and the ontology of a positivist objectivism. At this juncture we’d like to mention our interest in the analytic concept of a “boundary object”–as proposed by Susan Leigh Star and James R. Griesemer in reference to their actor network theory inspired research on the success of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley.[37] They understand the boundary object as a complement to the more generally recognized method of standardization and as a response to the problem of scientific coherence, or put another way, to the fact that most of the objects of scientific inquiry inhabit multiple social worlds at once, requiring intersectional work. Such translations, the authors emphasize, are facilitated by creating and cooperating via boundary objects. Thus, they

are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and the constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. These objects may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds, but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.[38]

The mummy as we use it in our filmic contribution and as a concept, or as an “orientation device” within and for post/colonial conflicts, can be understood in this sense as an “aesthetic boundary object”. Its boundary nature enables us to craft the concept of the object, or the (moving) picture, or the artefact, or the fetish, or the corpse which is different in different worlds–and in so doing, unlike with scientific boundary objects, successfully manage problems of identity and membership–or rather engage in metamorphoses; transformation and turn; return; or return to dust. This is why–in combination with the effect of the mummy as an aesthetic boundary object which both maximizes autonomy and communication between worlds–our contribution, alluding to the idea of the subject’s self-reflexivity, develops the concept of “self-restitution”. The mummy seen as an aesthetic boundary object is thus clearly not a means for reconciliation but could be understood as a tool or method in the deployment of a perception-conflict: “The production of boundary objects is one means of satisfying these potentially conflicting sets of concerns. Other means include imperialist imposition of representations, coercion, silencing and fragmentation”.[39]

Keep it or leave it

From the outset, issues of restitution/repatriation/return have constituted a second central topos of our work in combination with an interrogation of how ownership meshes with control and interpretive prerogatives in the world of things of colonial provenance. When we–as outlined above–focus on the activation of these thing-worlds, then this refers not least to the moment of unexplained ownership or contested possession; because, as Jean Baudrillard noted, objects in a collection are “pure objects”. According to Baudrillard’s early work–influenced by Henri Lefebvre’s analyses of everyday life and the semiology of Roland Barthes–the function of an object (in contrast to an utensil) when completely abstracted from its use lies in its being possessed.[40] Samuel Strehle, however, in his book Zur Aktualität von Jean Baudrillard, shows how Baudrillard moved beyond this early work centring on an investigation of the events that instigate relationships between people and objects towards an analysis of a “semiocracy” i.e. the rule of an orderly cultural system of meanings of things. This culminated with Kool Killer or the Insurrection of Signs in a “revolt of signs”; and following a diagnosis of an ongoing “revolt of the object” in Fatal Strategies, Baudrillard finally arrived in Impossibe Exchange at what he referred to as a “silent insurrection of the things that no longer wish to mean anything”.[41] This injunction to the subjects to join a rebellion whose venue shifts from the meaning of things to the things themselves is Baudrillard’s mysterious legacy. Transferred to our thematic context, we have followed it over the years through various talks and discussions that explored the possibilities and limits of discourses on restitution and related institutional and informal practices, “repatriation”, and transnational museum policy. Some aspects of the debate are set out explicitly in interviews that we conducted with Françoise Vergès, Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, Boris Wastiau and Edouard Planche (Debate on Restitution). This condensed presentation of different approaches and positions on the debate is intended to present a kind of preliminary conclusion to our discussions. Our starting point was the observation that only a consideration of the restitution claims and the defensive strategies employed against them in the aftermath of World War II and the processes of independence could address as yet unresolved and conflictual cultural meaning and exchange circulation spaces–shaped by colonialism and lying between and within Europe, the Americas and the younger former colonized territories in Africa or Asia etc. On this issue we have already called for the abandonment of such a modern western “possessive collectivity”, and called instead for a redistribution–in 2009 at the event “The Anti-humboldt” organised by “Alexandertechnik”, an alliance of cultural practitioners, architects, artists, theorists and activists: “The stubborn adherence to property rights can only serve to freeze exactly those processes of movement and change so proudly proclaimed by the Humboldt-Forum. Non-restitution is not a neutral act! It is precisely the abandonment of the ownership role that is the precondition for dialogue and multi-perspectivity. Or, as the participants at the anti-colonial Africa Conference held in Berlin in 2004 had already formulated: ‘Countless art and cultural treasures have been stolen from Africa and now form the highlights of many museums and private collections. Agreement must be reached with the countries of origin as to the conditions under which the object should be either returned or allowed to remain in Europe.’”[42]

When it comes to restitution, however, hardly any results, i.e. substantial changes have been achieved, and if it always seems to come down to the same stalemate–us and them–then perhaps mainly due to the fact that it is practically impossible under existing law to press legally binding restitution claims, and thus to alter possession (e.g. due to non-ratified conventions).[43] In addition, there is a difference between possession, which refers to the actual control of a thing, and property, which denotes the right to control something. In the debate on the world cultural heritage in which the world is conceived as an owner, that could mean relativizing ownership claims, with an organization such as the United Nations granted more control. The contribution entitled Two Speech Acts–An Object represents a type of exemplary snapshot of such a complex and questionable situation where a continuing non-negotiated post/colonial conflict between ownership and possession claims and facticities arises and prevails. The timeframe in which the two speech acts operate stretches from the beginning of the German occupation in colonial Cameroon, that is–to quote Achille Mbembe–from the foundation of a site “where sovereignty consists fundamentally in the exercise of a power outside the law (ab legibus solutus)“ and “violence constituted the original form of the right”[44] right up to the present day. When ownership of so-called colonial collections is more-or-less justified by (legally created and applied) robbery, then using a parallel to the argument that modern political sovereignty is founded on a theft of bodies,[45] the proposed concept of self-restitution seeks to apply strategies of escape and vagabondage (Rise for you will not perish (on mummymania), which according to the authors of Escape routes: Control and subversion in the 21st century can be understood as a force that challenges the majoritarian subject-form, and leads into the heart of social conflict. In their words:

The escape of the subject-form is thus not a retreat and disengagement from the world; rather, escape instigates an intensification of committed constructions and efficacious interventions. Escape is not a ghost, merely a protean trickster. It is a means to experiment and to initiate speculative ways to deal with the immediate and concrete facts which dwell in our worlds, because our experience cannot simply neglect their stubborn persistence and their inescapable efficaciousness.[46]

On the artefaction of Art and Culture

Using the example of the Memnon head on his way to the British Museum at the beginning of the 19th century, the scholar of Arabic and Islamic Studies Elliott Colla, in his brilliant book Conflicted Antiquities,[47] alludes to the fact that textual records of objects’ biographies[48] are fundamental to what he proposes to conceptualize as a “process of artefaction”. Colla thus conceives of such paperwork as forming an archive attached to the object and as part of the invention of its particularities as a unique piece; and at the same time of its meanings as a representant. But going further, widening the concept of the artefact, Colla opposes the idea of an originary moment of its life as an artefact. In our view, Colla’s concept can best be understood in contrast to the terms “objectivity” or “objectification” that refer to the normativity, as it were, of a scientific method of abstraction which separates the object from all the possible historical, social, or aesthetic conflicts within which it is positioned. Indeed, Colla states: “(…) it is most precise to define the artefact not in terms of its intrinsic qualities, but rather by way of the tensions and contradictions which permeate and link it to intense political, social, and cultural conflicts”.[49] And, as he points out, not least at the historical moment of the transformation of the adjective “artificial” into the noun “artefact”, whose first use according to the Oxford English Dictionary is confirmed for 1821.[50] The historical emergence of a language of the artefact is, as Colla argues, a language for laying claim to objects and thus fundamentally linked to ownership or its denial, to custodians and preservers. In this context, he criticizes “those who describe this history of antiquities acquisition in terms of theft” and in consequence “have largely restricted their critique to claims about property rights” without being able to grasp “the particular modus operandi of acquisition carried on under the banner of the artefact”, which “combined elements of salvationism, altruism, and scientism”. And he concludes:

… the powerful and persistent capacities of artefact discourse also suggest that any serious critique of acquisition cannot be confined to claims about discrete acts of theft, since what was at stake was the emergence of a new, more diffuse form of power–a network joining material objects and human subjects, powerful states and shifting aesthetic sensibilities, scientific fieldwork and museum pleasures. If this issue were considered with regard to restitutive justice, it would become apparent immediately how the claim of theft fails to grasp fully the broader context of colonial power.[51]

What is most relevant for our concern is that the terms used, i.e. the names which we assign to things and beings, seem indeed to be part of the terms of the trade, articulations of a matrix of social and cultural forces, as Colla puts it.[52] So, while the architect, art historian and writer August Essenwein termed the objects of everyday historical life gathered in the “Germanic Museum” in Nuremberg (founded in 1852, and headed by him as its first director) “monuments” when writing on the subject in 1884[53]–and thus anticipating to some extent the idea of a German lieu de mémoire–Frobenius, in his advice on collecting, no longer refers to curios, but merely to “ethnographical stuff”.[54] One can find many similar statements in the numerous ethnological and anthropological instructions for collectors, including those issued by the Berlin Museum of Ethnography.[55] Here, the potential collectors–colonial officials, missionaries, soldiers, travellers–are advised not just to collect “showpieces” but “from a scientific standpoint, equally important, even more important, is the complete collection of all pieces of a type (…) an inventory, as it were, of the complete cultural heritage.”[56] A similar notion of seriality and comparability for the purposes of research underpins the three volume publication “Die Altertümer von Benin” by Felix von Luschan (1919), encompassing all the artefacts robbed from the West African Kingdom of Benin during a so-called “punitive expedition” undertaken by the British in 1897. All the objects, which were later placed on the European art market, were recorded, divided into groups and photographed. This, however, did not prevent Felix von Luschan, in contrast to many other contemporary critics of art, from referring expressly to the art of Benin and, in his preface, to differentiate himself from a colleague who expressed his “contempt for this supposed ‘art’” through the use of “quotation marks”. Luschan remarked: “One may agree with him or not (and in art you have to allow each to work out his own salvation by his own lights …”[57] Such arbitrariness in determining what constitutes art seems not to have entirely dissipated, even today. When in Paris in 2006 the ethnological collections of the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie (formerly the Musée des Colonies) were merged into the new project of the Musée des Arts Premiers at the Quai Branly, the concept of dealing with the respective material legacy as “art” appeared relatively advanced. In the meantime, however, a broad consensus has emerged that equality in the representation of artistic productions and artefacts of various origins in cultural history cannot be achieved solely by means of such strategic redeployment and renaming as art (and especially not in the designation as “art premier” (which might translate as “primary art”), which still introduces an evolutionist implication to the idea of art’s universality). This persistent discomfort can obviously not be relieved simply by deciding to allocate an object either to the field of anthropology, i.e. the ethnographic heritage, or to art; since such a difference is less immanent in the objects themselves, but more in the manner of how and by whom their status has been defined–by what means they were trimmed and modified, and from where to where they have been transported: the problems of taxonomy and classification. Depending on the importance, benefits, or primarily, the overall release of utility values, things emerge as material meanings, as “semiophores”[58] (Krzysztof Pomian) or, as they were termed by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, “epistemologica”,[59] playing a role in the production of knowledge, insofar as “the specimen in a sense shares the materiality of the researched facts”. Thus, not only Baudrillard but many others have developed new terms and thing-entities in their attempts to describe a system of the thing-culture-consumer world, to capture a nomenclature of things.[60] James Clifford, for instance, coined the term “modern art-culture system”[61] by which he meant a critical historical approach to the contextualization and valorization of “exotic objects”[62] in the West. This is an ideological and institutional system where descriptions of art and culture are defined by permeable and movable systems of categorization–i.e. objects are either declared art or artefacts or something in between–in accordance with historicity, the art market and display politics in the museums, as well as academic and artistic discourses. As already indicated above, it may however be said that Clifford’s assignment, “a machine for making authenticity”,[63] of objects as either “(scientific) cultural artefacts” or “(aesthetic) works of art”[64] in practice works out to be far less stringent and intact as the representations in his diagram would suggest.[65] Criteria such as contextualization, singularity, or even beauty, can not provide water-tight criteria for deteminations of (modern) art or non-art. And although Clifford acknowledges this, his analysis of the interplay between mutability and the institutionalization or fixation of a certain attribution to an object remains unsatisfying. It seems as if Clifford wishes to overlook the dynamic correlation between artefacts as products of human capability and as constitutive of these very same capabilities. Nor do we have to wait for the advent of post/conceptual art: not least among the origins of modern art was the knowledge of this magic relationality of artefacts (not just instrumental objects), or of the power of the world of things to conceive, in an often arbitrary but also playful and sometimes sinister way, (un-)natural relations–to make separations, to emerge from cuts. Three contributions to this issue deal explicitly with these processes.

What emerges clearly in an interview with the curators of the “The Potosí Principle” exhibition are the challenges associated with trying to develop an exhibition approach that treats art and religious and ethnographic artefacts equally and simultaneously; especially when conceived from the perspective of artistic practice as opposed to from a curatorial, institutional, or disciplinary one. What also emerges, in our view, is a potentiality of art. With their approach of setting questions of artistic production in interaction with labour regimes and forms of capital, the exhibition organizers, Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann and Max Jorge Hinderer, precipitated the question of the right of ownership which in turn generated revealing conflicts. These are elaborated in the course of our discussion (Interview with the Curators of the Exhibition Principio Potosí / Das Potosí-Prinzip / The Potosí Principle on the Mobility of Colonial Baroque Paintings between Europe and the Americas).

When considering the contemporary institutional successors to the ethnographic museums and art collections of the 19th and early 20th century, it must be recognized that, in the meantime, many things have indeed been set in motion, not least due to Critical Museum Studies. And under the conditions of post-colonial globalization, the gestures, the displays and the cultural narrative through which other “cultures”, “natures”, or “arts” have been depicted in Western museums in the past are no longer evident. Nevertheless, this material heritage, the collections and their histories, even the histories of the objects themselves, which include their removal from their former social, cultural, religious and political contexts, often continue to remain in place today. And the more this is the case, the greater the need for explanation, until in some cases the objects may in principle even be up for discussion and negotiation. But from which point of view–in terms of conservation, science, aesthetics, tourism–are objects, once collected as trophies, “seized” as a source of knowledge, or assigned to the sublime, to be viewed today? And by whom, at what place, and under which circumstances? And who is capable of guiding these viewings? An interdisciplinary, multi-perspective approach is required in this case–exemplified in the contribution from Lotte Arndt (Vestiges of Oblivion–Sammy Baloji’s Works on Skulls in European Museum Collections). In her contribution, the author traces an artistic exploration of two historical anthropological collections that draws her into the field of conflict between art and research. This in turn leads to further differentiation and her own research on collection contents.

Finally, in the article by Susanne Leeb, the potentiality of art is subjected to a more critical view: Leeb scrutinises the points of departure, conditions, and experimental designs at the point where art seems to be assigned the task of appeasing conflicts over the meaning of objects.

Her contribution focuses on how artists for assistance in emergency cases are currently being called upon in the field of post/colonial conflict. It raises the question of whether art is really a suitable channel for deploying strategies of appropriation and valorization that, going beyond issues of ownership and control, are capable of connecting with existing alternative (everyday) strategies from which new cultural object relations can be generated. Such invocations are today becoming increasingly common, especially from within European ethnographic museums whose collections and display traditions are now often perceived as “sensitive”[66] (Contemporary Art and/in/versus/about the Ethnological Museum).

From “anthropological material” to “human remains”: On the untenability of a categorial difference and the urge for re-negotiations

In his well known text on the cultural biography of things, Igor Kopytoff[67] speaks about a polarity of individualized persons and commoditized things as a recent concept of thinking–and it is no accident that he contrasts this western contemporary conceptual polarity with slavery, which from today’s perspective is far more often understood as a process of enslavement. While, as Kopytoff points out, research here tends to shift from the category of “commodity” towards a category of social and cultural transformation and production, it is precisely this processuality which, in another recently proposed conceptual context, has been quasi de-biographized, yes, even ontologized. When, in 1896, the Royal Museums in Berlin published instructions for collecting ethnographic observations in East Africa, the exhortation to collect “… the greatest possible series of skulls … and also, where possible, complete skeletons of each tribe” appeared under the category of “anthropological material”.[68] This stands in sharp contrast to the terminology of “human remains” currently used which, by focusing on the remnants of human kind, attempts to distance itself from the category of (cultural or biological) raw material–to respect the peace of the dead in an ethical fashion, as it were.

When, on 30th September 2011, twenty skulls were handed over in small boxes to a Namibian delegation in the Berlin Charité, it was not about the repatriation of corpses, but of “human remains”–and so still a question of objects. (See Larissa Förster “These skulls are not enough” – The Repatriation of Namibian Human Remains from Berlin to Windhoek in 2011). In contrast, the handover of the remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar took place on 19th April 2012 in Vienna. They were repatriated in the cultural and legal sense as bodies–in coffins–returned from the Natural History Museum to Kuruman/Northern Cape (South Africa), where they were buried in August 2012. One would probably also have preferred in Vienna to speak of “human remains”–this would have entailed considerably less public attention, lower costs due to the lower logistical burden, and ultimately a situation in which the legal question of a criminal offence would arise in a mediated fashion.

So this term, especially from an interdisciplinary perspective, still retains a deal of discursive potential; not least in relation to the question of exactly what “quantity” and “quality” of “remains” justifies speaking of “human remains”, or how and whether to establish a categorical difference between human and non-human relics–the far more inclusive concept of “sensitive collections” also includes recordings of human appearance or sound, or of facial casts on which particles of “human remains” can be found.

In what follows, and on the basis of three events, we attempt to highlight different examples of such categorization, perspectivation, and social setting; and thereby propose to consider them as moments in a processualization of “becoming human”. Alluding to Deleuze’s concept of minor politics of becoming that definitely fluidifies the subject-form, or even being, and is rather impeded by humanism and subjectivism, the idea of becoming runs counter to what for instance Françoise Vergès calls a “humanitarian discourse”, and one that is clearly linked to European abolitionism. She brilliantly discusses such discourse as “a 19th century inaugurated age of love in politics“ that is “intimately connected with the imperial conquest”.[69] In contrast, we understand becoming human to partake in an “alter-universalism” and thus not in a European white universalism. Rather, it is part of a plurality and of subaltern projects trying to assert a claim for freedom and equality.[70]

In the 2011 handover, two skulls were visible under a plexiglass cover, the others were packed in cartons. This was commented on by many of those in attendance: the skulls “spoke”, they charged the room emotionally and seemed to assign positions to those present. They even acted as witnesses–the cruelty of colonial practices, war and science literally “materialized” in them–even in the face of attempts to explain this in a more self-critical and self-reflexive manner as mere personal projections. This may all sound perfectly trivial. On the threshold between scientific material, witness, person/body, the (colonial) scientific practice was tangibly decipherable, since this threshold itself adhered to the skulls: the objectification and invasive procedures–the labels and the saw cuts–were visible “in the material”. In addition, these “(former) objects” now wrested from the colonial context produced affect through their newly found indeterminacy: as both subject and object, witness, body, national cultural heritage, object of remembrance and mourning, a vanitas metaphor, and, once again, as a scientific object in the process of identification. At this handover, just as the “thing-ness” was being ruptured, a situation arose that seemed urgently to call on all those present to search for new cultural (remembrance political, legal, scientific, governmental, human) negotiations and decisions.

In 2012, the “Charité Human Remains Project” issued an invitation to an interdisciplinary workshop in the anatomy department of the Berlin Charité under the title “Collect and Preserve, Research and Return–Human Remains from the Colonial Era in Academic and Museum Collections”. It was addressed to historians, forensic scientists, ethnologists, anthropologists, journalists, students, jurists, etc. amid an atmosphere of rare openness regarding questions of status and how to deal with a former scientific object that reflected so prominently the racism and mistakes of a number of disciplines. In addressing the central questions such as how to determine, evaluate, and relate to each another the various methods of identification–forensic, morphological, invasive and historical–and how to deal with the research results of such “sensitive collections”, the commitment of the participating knowledge formations to dealing with these issues was repeatedly stressed. However, questions about what to do with these collections remained unanswered. There was an absence of participants from the field of science and from the affected communities of the postcolonies.

In April 2013, the German Museums Association published their “Recommendations for the Care of Human Remains in Museums and Collections”.[71] Following these recommendations, the term “human remains” refers to all physical remains belonging to the biological species Homo sapiens.[72] Since the 1950s, museums have tried to develop policies and practices concerning human remains whereas national guidelines concerning ownership and authority have varied considerably. It was only in 1990 with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that a seminal guideline to repatriating human remains and sacred and cultural objects to descendants or communities was signed by the former settler colonies of the Unites States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.[73] While here the urgency to deal with claims from within the country by so called First Nations seems to have advanced a need for action, European museums first began to assume their responsibilities more than a decade later. By favouring personalized repatriation cases like those of the remains of Saartje Baartman, El Negro or King Badu Bonsu II, they ensured that responses to claims can be regarded more as “diplomatic acts”[74] and not necessarily as efforts to face the challenge of how to proceed with the abundant collections of anonymous human remains in their deposits including the history of their acquisition.[75]

Connections and Formats–Interior and Exterior Spaces

If this special issue is the expression of our wish to contribute to the debate on the status of objects (in Europe) of colonial provenance–and widened to include cultural and artistic reflections and approaches–then our aim, last but not least, is the testing and invention of new aesthetic and social practices. These practices–developed and reflected on in the context of our own cultural/artistic praxis–are intended to facilitate the shaping and revision of those cultural exchanges that have arisen in the course of (German and European) colonial and imperial projects, including the associated archaeological/ethnographic collecting and the emergence of modern art. This is not just a matter of criticism–we see ourselves as producers of culture who, going beyond cultural analysis, formulate proposals for cultural practices and seek to develop appropriate audio/visual formats and socio/cultural displays. It is clear to us that our own productions are similarly contingent and as much subject to processes, business cycles, and geopolitical dynamics as those we analyze and criticize. So both our contributions, ‘Staging with Artefacts–Production of History on the Museum Island in Berlin’, Part 1 and Part 2 develop their arguments with the deliberate inclusion of images: the result of visual research that, while it remains as close as possible to the act of seeing, seeks to develop a reflective view. Taking the form of a museum tour, two constellations of “wrapping and stuffing” are brought into focus–the interplay between the museum building and its localization (Berlin/Museum Island), and the artefacts displayed within. Part 1 examines an exhibition of war-damaged and recently restored artefacts from the archaeological site of Tell Halaf, whose biographies were staged in the exhibition as a biography of the city of Berlin and of the excavator Max von Oppenheim. Part 2 considers the exchange taking place between building and artefact in the New Museum on the Museum Island. During the reopening in 2009 one could have viewed the building itself as a staged artefact: treated during the restoration process as an artefact for display, one was confronted with the almost overpowering biography of the building, which communicated itself through the maimed surfaces of its walls. One spoke in this context of “wounds”…

So if we have, as elucidated above, espoused an activation of the object world, we are well aware that the public performances of new openings of museums following reconstruction, relocation, etc. that have become increasingly fashionable in recent years also sets artefacts in biographical motion. The idea of activating the object world in the “diaspora of objects” is not only reserved for “us” then; it may well be a reflection of a general museal strategy–to increase visitor numbers, for example–but one can note a marked increase for ethnological collections in recent years: Paris (Musée du quai Branly, Louvre), Frankfurt (Weltkulturen Museum), Cologne (Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum–Cultures of the World), Leipzig (Grassi Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig), Dresden (Japanese Palace. Ethnological Museum; a permanent exhibition is currently under construction), just to name a few–and last but not least of course, all of the planned moves of collections to the Humboldt-Forum… When we speak of “wrapping and stuffing”, we are addressing the importance of not only enabling the mobilization of artefacts, but also of setting the geographies and discourses that surround them in motion–not to let go or loose sight of them when it comes to aiding the emergence of new biographies of artefacts, to help the things to a new “social life”[76] (Arjun Appadurai, Igor Kopytoff). Since Berlin and its specific situation is our starting point, it is particularly important to bring our considerations to bear on a transnational and post- and decolonial debate. That our work involves different formats and media is not only the result of our backgrounds in artistic work and/or visual studies; but also because of our wish to use the possibilities of online media to directly link our work to those groups and sources that comprise our existing or nascent work and interest networks. Here our aim lies in expanding the articulation spectrum to the activation of processuality and praxeology, connections and linkages.

This magazine would not have been possible without the support of many. Therefore, not only to the authors and interviewees, but also for the inspiration, generosity and patience of our colleagues and friends, our thanks.

Matei Bellu, the members of bétonsalon & the seminar “Sous le ciel libre de l’histoire”, Emilie Bujès, Annika Butz, Stefan Eisenhofer from the Ethnological Museum Munich, Anselm Franke, Sonja Oehler & Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Ulrike Hamann, Tobias Hering & the filmfestival globale Berlin, Malte Jaguttis, Reinhart Kössler, Clemens Krümmel, Birgit Mennel, Stefan Nowotny & Gerald Raunig from the institute eipcp, Dimitris Papadopoulos, Anne Splettstößer, Holger Stöcker, Vassilis S. Tsianos, Daniel Weiss, Riccardo Zito & Alexandra Ilieva, Philip Zölls & [muc] münchen postkolonial

Translated by Douglas Henderson

Artefakte//anti-humboldt is a Berlin based group of artists and scholars – Lotte Arndt (until 2009), Brigitta Kuster, Regina Sarreiter, Dierk Schmidt, Elsa de Seynes – that was founded in 2008 as part of the event Der Anti- Humboldt ( against the re-construction of the Prussian castle and the Humboldt-Forum in Berlin. Artefakte//anti-humboldt pursues its questioning of the ethnographic museums by organizing a workshop on restitution (2008), a lecture and a debate with Françoise Vergès on the “Museum of the present” (2009), an open-air film lecture with mummy films held at the construction site of the to-be-built castle in Berlin (2010) as well as at the musée du Quai Branly invited by bétonsalon in Paris (2011). The lecture formes the basis for the installation “‘Rise for you will not perish’ (on mummymania)” showcased at the exhibition Animism at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2012. Artefakte is currently working on the project “Künstliche Tatsachen/Artificial Fact” in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Dresden (Germany), and partners in South Africa and Benin.


1. Etienne François and Hagen Schulze, eds. Deutsche Erinnerungsorte (Munich, 2002). [↑]

2. On colonial fantasy, see “colonialism without colonies”, zu Revisionsbestrebungen und historischen Kontinuitäten/Diskontinuitäten bis zum Aufbau etwa des nationalsozialistischen Kolonialministeriums: Birthe Kundrus, ed, Phantasiereiche. Zur Kulturgeschichte des deutschen Kolonialismus (Frankfurt am Main, 2003). [↑]

3. This has been a nickname for Berlin as capital and cultural centre since the 17th century. [↑]

4. Malte Fuhrmann, Der Traum vom deutschen Orient. Zwei deutsche Kolonien im Osmanischen Reich 1851-1918 (Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 2006). [↑]

5.  This specific type of forgetting is often discussed here in Germany in terms of colonial amnesia–in our opinion, however, this is somewhat problematic as, instead of addressing a specific historical constellation, it merely inherits a notion of pathology. [↑]

6. On this point, see also Brigitta Kuster, “L’avenir est un long passé”, in: Andrei Siclodi, ed, Private Investigations: Paths of Critical Knowledge Production in Contemporary Art (Innsbruck, 2011). [↑]

7.  For more on this topic, see: Dierk Schmidt et al., eds., The Division of the Earth, Tableaux on the Legal Synopsis of the Berlin Africa Conference (Berlin, 2010). [↑]

10. Our current project “KÜNSTLICHE TATSACHEN / ARTIFICAL FACTS”–in cooperation with the Kunsthaus Dresden (Germany)–seeks to further develop a performative approach to the concept of activation and to elaborate its potentialities in research-gatherings in Johannesburg, Porto Novo and Dresden centring around questions of human remains, cultural heritage, and the definition and role of contemporary art. [↑]

11. For the development of the concept of activation, see also our film essay on mummy films “Rise, for you will not perish” (on mummymania). Prior to the handover of the skulls, the civil society alliance “Völkermord verjährt nicht!” (“The crime of genocide never lapses!”)–which includes Artefakte//anti-humboldt–was formed in Berlin, initiating a press conference and discussion in the House of World Cultures. See for instance: [↑]

13. In the beginning, our group Artefakte//anti-humboldt worked as part of the larger group “Alexandertechnik”, whose members also focused on the expected impact of the Humboldt-Forum on the museum landscape in the centre of the capital and on urban cultural transformation in general. See: http:// [↑]

14. The laying of the foundation stone for the Humboldt-Forum was on 12th June, 2013. [↑]

15. See, for exmple, Horst Bredekamp, Antikensehnsucht und Maschinenglauben: die Geschichte der Kunstkammer und die Zukunft der Kunstgeschichte (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1993); Horst Bredekamp, Theater der Natur und Kunst: Wunderkammern des Wissens: eine Ausstellung der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 10. Dezember 2000 bis 4. März 2001, Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin (Berlin: Henschel, 2000). [↑]

16. See the exhibition “Anders zur Welt kommen” in the Altes Museum on the Museum Island, 2009-2010 ( and the critical exhibition review by Larissa Förster, “Nichts gewagt, nichts gewonnen: die Ausstellung ‘Anders zur Welt kommen: das Humboldt-Forum im Schloss, ein Werkstattblick’”, in: Paideuma, v. 56 (2010), p. 241-261 At the time of writing this introduction, the concept for the Humboldt-Forum, as developed since 2010 under the leadership of Martin Heller, has become far more pragmatic, but no less problematic. See: Humboldt-Forum / Agora: Vorstellung der inhaltlichen Konzeptarbeit, published in June 2013:[↑]

17. For more on this topic, see: Andrea Weindl, “Die Kurbrandenburger im ‘atlantischen System’, 1650-1720”, in: Christian Wentzlaff-Eggebert and Martin Traine eds., Arbeitspapiere zur Lateinamerikaforschung, II-03, (Köln: 2001), 90 pages, online:; “Brandenburger slave trade. The Prussian precursor of colonisation”, an interview with Andrea Weindl, historian, by Annette Nino, Wiebke Sattelberg and Dierk Schmid, in: Dierk Schmidt et al. 2010, 38-40, see footnote 7; Malte Stamm, Das Koloniale Experiment. Der Sklavenhandel Brandenburg-Preußens im transatlantischen Raum 1680-1718, doctoral dissertation (Düsseldorf, 2013) (URL:[↑]

18. The event took place on Sunday, 6th June 2010, in the framework of the Berlin based globalisation-critical film festival “globale”. See: [↑]

19. Mummies also played an important role in early magic lantern performances. In her essay, “The Curse of the Pharaoh or How Cinema Contracted Egyptomania”, Antonia Lant elaborates on the alliance between new visual and illusionists forms of cinematic representation and enthusiastic ideas about ancient Egypt–i.e. ‘Egyptomania’. In her text the author advances the argument that ancient Egypt equals the cinema, to the extent that in Western Victorian culture both actually serve as doors, giving access to revelation and the unveiling of mysteries and fantasies. (Antonia Lant, “The Curse of the Pharaoh or How Cinema Contracted Egyptomania”, in Visions of the East. Orientalism in Film, eds. Matthew Bernstein, Gaylyn Studlar (London, 1997), 69-98) We were able to trace the importance of the parallelization of ancient Egypt and film in colonial visual culture in several film archives in Berlin and Paris, considering noted examples such as Georges Meliès’s “The Monster” (1903), “Cléopâtrre” (1899 ) or “Les infortunes d’un explorateur ou les momies recalcitrantes” (1900), Ernst Lubitsch’s “Die Augen der Mumie Ma” (1918) or “Das Weib des Pharaos” (1922, restored 2011), the Pathé films “Le Roman de la Momie” (1910), “La momie miraculeuse” (1912) or “The Egyptian Mummy” by Pat Hartigan (1913). [↑]

20. See, for instance, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism. Multiculturalism and the Media (New York/London: Routledge, 1994). [↑]

21. Such showdowns may recall how human remains of anthropological research conducted in the 19th century have become obsolete and shameful today. [↑]

22. If you were to relate this scene to the current development of the Humboldt-Forum, it could be said that the protagonists are already at work: the archaeologist-Hermann Parzinger, Director of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation; and the mummies–in the Ethnological Museum and the New Museum, probably hidden in their basements (see also our contribution ‘Staging with artefacts–Production of History on the Museum Island in Berlin’, Part 1 and Part 2); the only one missing is the psychiatrist. [↑]

23. On visual metaphors for the construction of the Other in colonial as well as in psychoanalytical discourse and on the interweaving of colonial and gender discourse, see also Ella Shohat, “Gender and the Culture of Empire: Toward a Feminist Ethnography of the Cinema,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 131: 1-2 (Spring 1991): 45-84. [↑]

24. Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” (“Des espaces autres,” originally published in March 1967), in: Architecture/Mouvement/Continuité, October 1984. Quoted from the online version:, here 7. For more on heterotopia and Foucault’s spatialized analytics of power, see: Brigitta Kuster, “Camps und Heterotopien der Gegenwart. À propos de ‘Rien ne vaut que la vie, mais la vie même ne vaut rien’”, in Marie-Hélène Gutberlet and Sissy Helff, eds., Die Kunst der Migration. Aktuelle Positionen zum europäisch-afrikanischen Diskurs (Bielefeld, 2011), 147-157. For a detailed discussion of power in the “exhibitionary complex” (Bennett), or “the world as exhibition” (Mitchell), see Brigitta Kuster, “‘If the images of the present don’t change, then change the images of the past’–Zur Exposition Coloniale Internationale, Paris 1931”, in: Comparativ. Zeitschrift für Globalgeschichte und Vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung, 5/2009, 85-103. [↑]

25. All following quotes are cited from the online version:  [↑]

26. Ibid., 195. [↑]

27. Ibid. [↑]

28. Ibid., 196. [↑]

29. Ibid., 198. [↑]

30. Ibid. [↑]

31. Ibid. [↑]

32. Ibid. [↑]

33. See Sara Ahmed, “Orientations. Toward a Queer Phenomenology”, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 12:4, 2006, 544-574. [↑]

34. Sara Ahmed, “Orientations Matter”, in New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, eds. Diana H. Coole & Samantha Frost (Duke University Press, 2010), 234-257, here 234. [↑]

35. The term “artefaction” will be specified in greater detail below. [↑]

36. Elliott Colla, “Shadi ‘Abd al-Salam’s al-Mumiya’: Ambivalence and the Egyptian Nation-State,” in Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in North Africa, ed. Ali Ahmida (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 109-146. [↑]

37. Susan Leigh Star and James R. Griesemer, “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39”, Social Studies of Science, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Aug., 1989): 387-420. [↑]

38. Ibid., 393. [↑]

39. Ibid., 413. [↑]

40. Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects (London:Verso, 2005), here 92 and 91: “what is possessed is always an object abstracted from its function and thus brought into relationship with the subject.“ [↑]

41. Quoted after Samuel Strehle, Zur Aktualität von Jean Baudrillard (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2007), 157. [↑]

42. See footnote 13  [↑]

43. For a good introduction and discussion of international laws regarding restitution, see: Lotte Arndt, “Réflexions sur le renversement de la charge de la preuve comme levier post-colonial / Thoughts on the reversal of the burden of proof as a postcolonial lever”, in The brochure of Bétonsalon BS n°12 (exhibition One caption hides another), 11/2011 – 01/2012, 12-19, download under: [↑]

44. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics”, in Public Culture 15(1), (2003): 11-40, here 23 and 25. [↑]

45. For the stolen body and the abduction of the Sabine women in the context of a discussion on modern sovereignty, see: Dimitris Papadopoulos and Vassilis S. Tsianos, “How to do Sovereignty without People. The Subjectless Condition of Postliberal Power”, in Boundary 2: International Journal of Literature and Culture, 34(1), (2007): 135-172; and Prabhsharanbir Singh, “Stolen bodies and ravished souls: Sikh experience meets colonial power”, in Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory, 5:2 (2009), 103-113. [↑]

46. Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, Vassilis S. Tsianos, Escape routes: Control and subversion in the 21st century (London: Pluto Press, 2008), here 56, 65. [↑]

47. Elliott Colla, Conflicted Antiquities. Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity, (London 2007). [↑]

48. See Igor Kopytoff, “The cultural life of things: Commoditization as process”, in The Social Life of Things. Commodities in cultural perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge, 1986), 64-91. [↑]

49. Colla 2007 (see footnote 47): 29. [↑]

50. Ibid., 51, 288. [↑]

51. Ibid., 64, -65. [↑]

52. Ibid.: 60. [↑]

53. Anke te Heesen, Theorien des Museums. Zur Einführung. (Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2012), 61ff. [↑]

54. Johannes Fabian, “Curios and Curiosity. Notes on reading Torday and Frobenius”, in The Scramble for Art in Central Africa, eds. Enid Schildkrout, Curtis A. Keim (Cambridge University Press, 1998), 79-108, here 99; Johannes Fabian, Im Tropenfieber (Out of Our Minds, Berkeley 2000), (München: Beck, 2001), 257. [↑]

55. See Regina Sarreiter “Ich glaube, dass die Hälfte Ihres Museums gestohlen ist”, in Anette Hoffmann, Britta Lange, Regina Sarreiter, eds., Was Wir Sehen. Bilder, Stimmen, Rauschen. Zur Kritik anthropometrischen Sammelns, (Basel: Basler Afrikabibliographien, 2012), 43-58. [↑]

56. Königliche Museen zu Berlin, Anleitung zum Ethnologischen Beobachten und Sammeln (Berlin: Reimer, 1914), 9. [↑]

57. Felix von Luschan, Die Altertümer von Benin, Band (Berlin, Leipzig: Georg Reimer), 1919, IX, online:,s.548.htm [↑]

58. Krzysztof Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities. Paris and Venice, 1500-1800 (Cambridge: Polity, 1990). [↑]

59. Hans-Jörg Rheinberger: “Epistemologica: Präparate”, in Dingwelten. Das Museum als Erkenntnisort, eds. Anke te Heesen & Dagmar Lutz (Schriften des Deutschen Hygiene-Museums Dresden, Vol. 4). (Cologne, 2005), 65-76. [↑]

60. The introduction of an “intangible cultural heritage”, as defined by UNESCO, is certainly an important addition to the issues we raise here–a discussion, however, is beyond the scope of this article. [↑]

61. James Clifford, “On collecting art and culture”, in ibid., The Predicament of Culture. Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 1988), 215-251, here  223. Available online at [↑]

62. Ibid., 215. [↑]

63. Ibid., 224. [↑]

64. Ibid., 222. [↑]

65. In the fourth part of his essay, “On collecting art and culture”, Clifford, faced with an art-culture system that has become progressively more obsolete through increasing globalization, finally proposes the alternative of a current tribal temporality. In our view, however, this runs the risk of re-instating a dichotomy and lags far behind the granting of an interdependency of coloniser and colonised, much as Homi Bhabha has taken as constitutive of a “location of culture”. [↑]

66. See Margit Berner, Anette Hoffmann and Britta Lange, eds. Sensible Sammlungen. Aus dem anthropologischen Depot (Hamburg, 2011). [↑]

67. See Kopytoff 1986, (footnote 48). [↑]

68.  Königliche Museen zu Berlin, Instruktion für ethnographische Beobachtung und Sammlungen in Deutsch-Ostafrika, Heft 2, (Berlin, 1896), 29. [↑]

69. Françoise Vergès, “The Age of Love”, in: Transformation 47 (2001), 1-17, here 2; download at: [↑]

70. Vassilis S. Tsianos and Tobias Mulot, “Universelle Menschheit. Vom porösen Raum der Wissensproduktion”, to appear in: Sozial.Geschichte Online, [↑]

71. According to the “Recommendations for the Care of Human Remains in Museums and Collections” recently (April 2013) published by the German Museums Association, human remains include: “all non-processed, processed or preserved forms of human bodies and parts thereof. This covers particular bones, mummies, bog bodies, soft tissues, organs, tissue sections, embryos, foetuses, skin, hair, fingernails and toenails (the last four even if they originate from living people) and cremated remains; all (ritual) objects into which human remains as defined above have been knowingly incorporated. They do not include: mouldings of human bodies or body parts, death masks, audio recordings of human voices, anthropological photographs; (ritual) objects previously associated with human remains, such as for example burial objects.” See: [↑]

72. Ibid. [↑]

73. Mary Bouquet, Museums. A Visual Anthropology, (London/New York: Berg, 2012), 153. [↑]

74. Ibid., 155. [↑]

75. Right now in Berlin there are efforts underway to transfer collections of “human remains”, acquired first in 2011, from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) to another institution, the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory (BGAEU). Since the aforementioned handover of “human remains” in 2011 received wide public attention, prompting questions concerning their dubious status as collection objects and raising the idea of restitution, this act by the SPK can only be seen as an attempt to rid itself of this “sensitive” collection, and thus avoid any situation involving potential restitution issues. In our opinion, it is important to look critically at this migration of collections for three reasons: as a private independent association, the BGAEU is in a less constrained position in respect of possible restitution requests when compared to a public collection. While the skulls will move, the object documentation will remain at its present location within the SPK, which in the case of a restitution claim would considerably impede provenance research for identification purposes. This migration of a public collection is occurring in secrecy, under complete exclusion of the public. [↑]

76. See footnote 48. [↑]

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Brigitta Kuster is an artist/writer focusing on topics such as cultural analysis, postcolonialism, migration. 2010 and 2006 Swiss Art Award. Her latest research in the framework of the FP7 funded project Mig@Net is dedicated to the study of migrant participation in transnational digital network, border crossing and biometric identities (see: In 2009, along with Dierk Schmidt, she participated in the exhibition Randzonen der Bilder at the Kunsthaus Dresden, where she presented together with Moise Merlin Mabouna their work-in-progress Choix d'un passé. Traits d'union on the colonial legacies and memories between Cameroon and Germany. Her recent publications, films and exhibitions include: Participation in Rester et partir, Musée de Bamako (Mali) 2011; Decolonisation, Forum Expanded, Berlinale 2010; “Tarzan and the Scream of Modernity: On the Post-Colonial in Mohamed Osfour's Cinematic Works,” in Colonial Modern. Aesthetics of the Past. Rebellions for the Future, eds Tom Avermaete/Serhat Karakayali/Marion von Osten (London: black dog publishing, 2010).
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Dierk Schmidt is an artist and author based in Berlin. His paintings pursue questions of everyday politics and their historical origins by creating series of images that explore a critical revision of painting. His work The Division of the Earth focuses on the relation of (colonial) international law, abstraction and a recent case of restitution. Selected solo exhibitions: IMAGE LEAKS - On the Image Politics of Resources, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt/Main (2011); SIEV-X – On a Case of Intensified Refugee Politics, or Géricault and the Question Concerning the Construction of History, Städel-Museum, Frankfurt/Main (2009); Selected group exhibitions: Animism, OCAT, Shenzhen 2013; Randzonen der Bilder, (together with Brigitta Kuster, Moise Merlin Mabouna), Kunsthaus Dresden 2009; documenta 12, Kassel (2007); Trienal du Luand, Luanda 2007. Recent Publications: The Division of the Earth – Tableaux on the legal Synopses of the Berlin Africa Conference, (Cologne: Walther Koenig, 2010). He publishes in Texte zur Kunst and Springerin.
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Regina Sarreiter studied cultural and social anthropology in Berlin. Her recent research focus lies on (post)colonialisms in Germany and the aftermath of collections of ethnographic artefacts. Currently she is an academic assistant at Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin, where she is responsible for cultural presentation of research results. She is an honorary research fellow at the Archiv and Public Culture Initiative at the University of Cape Town. Recent publication and group exhibitions: “Ich glaube, dass die Hälfte Ihres Museum gestohlen ist”, in Was Wir Sehen. Bilder, Stimmen, Rauschen. Zur Kritik anthropometrischen Sammelns, eds Anette Hoffmann, Britta Lange, Regina Sarreiter, (Basel: Basler Afrikabibliographien, 2012) ; “Unerhörter Bericht über die deutschen Verbrechen in den kolonisierten Gebieten und über das fortwährende Wirken dieser Gewalt bis in die Gegenwart” (2012; together with Anette Hoffmann, Andrea Bellu and Matei Bellu), Acts of Voicing, Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, 2012; His Master’s Voice, HartWare Kunstverein, Dortmund, 2013.
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