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Accepted Paper:

Decolonializing the Museum at Times of War?  
Banu Karaca (Forum Transregionale Studien)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the possibilities and limitations in attempts to decolonize museum collections at times of war.

Paper long abstract:

At a time when activists in Germany are forcefully demanding to decolonize Berlin's museum collections and its institutions are faced with a wide variety of restitution claims, this paper proposes to look how these demands are perceived by those in charge of collections of "Islamic art" and those originating from the Middle East in general. Since 2016, the German Foreign Ministry and the German Archeological Institute are spearheading a project that aims to "facilitate identification of looted objects that are being traded illegally on the art market" and the "reconstruction of cultural heritage in Syria." The initiative is called Stunde Null (zero hour); its name is the very term that has been so central to the fashioning of a post-war Germany, to the purported rupture with the Third Reich and the disavowal of the workings of the National Socialist past in the present. The paper proposes to examine the ways in which the discourses of decolonializing the museum are at once integrated and undermined by the institutions that hold the collections of artifacts from Middle East, now turned theaters of war, that are located on Berlin's Museumsinsel. More specifically, it aims to probe how the erasure of memory at "home" (i.e. Germany) is connected to notions of heritage protection abroad (i.e. Syria), and how to what extend museums are able face the contemporary entanglements of historical artifact and art with war and political violence, past and present.

Panel P179
Curating the (post)colonial in Europe and beyond
  Session 1 Wednesday 22 July, 2020, -