Accepted paper:

Mobilizing objects: collaborative research practices in ethnographic collections


Margareta von Oswald (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Verena Rodatus (Institute for Art History, Arts of Africa)
Romuald Tchibozo (University of Abomey-Calavi)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how untapped objects can become tools for challenging and innovative collaborative research. We, three German and Benin scholars, captured different perspectives on a group of objects from Benin, and presented our research in a video-installation in Berlin’s Ethnological Museum.

Paper long abstract:

There are approximately 75 000 objects in the Africa collection of Berlin's Ethnological Museum. The majority of the objects lie undisturbed in the museum's storage. Less than one percent, mainly "masterpieces", is accessible to the public in the museum's exhibition. How can those untapped objects, collected to be preserved for future generations, but not to collect dust, become accessible? Thinking of those collections as material traces of social histories, how can they become tools for contemporary forms of identification and research and be the point of departure to construct "cosmo-optimal" futures ? In 2014-2015, we took a group of objects from Benin as the starting-point for a collaborative research project. In Benin, these objects have become rare. To find out why this is the case we did research in Berlin and different locations in Benin. We documented the research in a 4-channel-video installation which captured different perspectives on the objects and was displayed together with the objects in the exhibition "Object Biographies" (Ethnologisches Museum Berlin, Mar 2015 - Oct 2015). We unraveled, first, issues linked to the past, laying open histories of European-African entanglement. Second, considering those historically unequal relationships, we discussed how they continue to affect the present. The research was shaped by issues of disparate access: to the collections, to knowledge, to funding. This led us, third, to reflect upon how in the future different formats of cooperative knowledge production on ethnographic collections, can be conceptualized and linked to institutional priorities and funding structures

panel P089
Re-visioning material anthropological legacies for cosmo-optimal futures