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Accepted Paper:

Unhappy Objects: Ontological Transformations of Maasai Belongings in European Museums and their Affective Consequences on Multiple Publics  
Laibor Kalanga Moko (Freie Universität Berlin) Paola Ivanov (Ethnologisches Museum Berlin)

Paper Short Abstract:

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ethnographic museums acquired “objects” from various parts of the world. These pieces were relocated and placed in storerooms in Europe. This paper explores how this translocation ontologically affected the “objects” and different publics.

Paper Abstract:

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ethnographic museums acquired "objects" from around the world in the context of colonialism. These pieces were relocated and placed in the storerooms of museums in Europe. The ways these collection pieces are assembled and displayed in museums of the global North mirror colonial ways of seeing, assessing and classifying non-European cultures. Amidst the critique of colonial curation, a profound question emerges: How has the relocation of these “objects” into museums affected their relationship to humans? This paper explores the complexity of ethnographic collections, focusing on the effects of violent translocation on the ontological status of “objects”. Using the example of some of the Maasai “objects” in Berlin’s Ethnological Museum, we argue that the relocation of Maasai belongings and their presence in the museum has constructed them as “unhappy objects” or ing’weni occupied by iloikop, to use the words of our interlocutors. We analyse the ways in which these ontological transformations continuously affect both communities of origin and the public in Germany, where the “objects” are now located. By deciphering this dynamic interplay between colonial violence, relocation of objects, and their subsequent existence in the museum milieu, we provide a nuanced understanding of indigenous ontologies and concepts of ownership and materiality that differ from dominant colonial-capitalist notions. We also argue that actors disputing over the ownership and restitution of the objects operate on the basis of sometimes drastically diverging, affectively grounded basic assumptions about the ontological status of the "objects".

Panel OP071
Doing provenance research otherwise. From undoing colonial epistemologies to pluralising knowledge with museum collections
  Session 2 Thursday 18 July, 2024, -