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Workshop “Un-doing post-colonial knowledges. Perspectives from academia-arts-activism” taking place in Bayreuth and Leipzig

25.09.2019

A workshop that was held between July 19 and 21, 2019 by the Research Section “Knowledges” of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence focused on the topic of “un_doing post_colonial knowledges: perspectives from academia_arts_activism” discussing the manner of how colonial objects should be dealt with today. The three-day workshop that took place in both Bayreuth and Leipzig united scholars and practitioners from Europe and Africa.

In museums all over the world, visitors are encouraged to marvel at objects originating from colonial times. However, since last year the debate on how European museums should deal with such exhibits bearing colonial origin has intensified. This discussion has mostly been dominated by actors from the museum field in Europe whereas African and African-Diasporic voices on the matter have often been marginalized. The workshop that took place at the end of July in Bayreuth and Leipzig aimed to shift this balance by fuelling a debate among practitioners and scholars from arts, academia and activism, with a special focus on views emerging from the African continent and the African diaspora. It was jointly organised by Katharina Schramm (University of Bayreuth), Nadine Siegert (Iwalewahaus / Goethe-Institute Johannesburg) and Manuela Bauche (Free University Berlin). In the course of the three-day deliberations, three themes unfolded: un-doing post-colonial knowledges; objects and affects and (disrupting) institutions.

Un-doing post-colonial knowledges

The workshop opened with a public keynote address by Temi Odumosu from the University of Malmö. In her talk “Who is the Subject? On portraiture in the colonial archive” the renowned expert on colonial archiving addressed important questions about the afterlife of colonialism for instance in colonial portraits and collections. She also put emphasis on responsibilities that are evoked when working and doing research in the colonial archive.

The second day’s agenda picked up where Odumosu’s presentation had left off. Participants from Accra, Berlin, Cape Town, Dakar, Lagos, Munich and Windhoek discussed the difficulties of establishing new classificatory and curatorial practices from within the space of the (ethnographic) museum. The discussion later focused on the possibilities of artistic, academic and political interventions into museums and collections. The workshop scrutinized impacts such interventions can have on highlighting the legacies of the hegemonic colonial archive but also on rethinking and remodelling the knowledge produced through the colonial archive as well as the institutions that preserve and communicate this knowledge. At the same time, the sessions reflected on the limits of these kind of interventions. During the debate, the question of building alternative archives arose. The role of local knowledges and forms of meaning-making in relation to the objects as well as the need for community consultation in matters of restitution were also discussed. Finally, the multiple relations that form and transform archives and objects were investigated as well.

Connecting objects and affects

The second theme running through the workshop connected objects and affects. Various presentations demonstrated the importance of enduring the discomfort and anxiety the process of decolonialization entails. Not being reconciled by the singular act of repatriation would require entering a long-term process of collaborative engagement with open and maybe unresolvable questions. Participants concluded that decolonizing emotions would have to be an important first step in this process.

Institutions and their disruption

The question of the possibilities and limitations of collaborations between European museums with partner institutions on the African continent and other stakeholders, such as communities, artists or activists, was another recurring topic during the workshop. Participants discussed the potential of arts in particular to not only add, but to disrupt and transgress hegemonic narratives and dominant visual regimes. During the discussion the need for collaboration, but also for disruption was expressed. Participants debated a call for a more radical transformation of the museum space in order to enable effective and sustainable collaborations. Also, the workshop scrutinized the need to rethink institutional structures concluding that administrative routines could also become instruments of power and thus needed to be carefully performed.

Last stop: Leipzig

During the last day of the workshop participants went to Leipzig where they had the chance to experience first-hand a practical attempt at going beyond conventional ethnological displays. They visited the exhibition “Werkstatt Prolog” at the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde. A public roundtable discussion on the topic of “Postcolonial reflections: On the future lives of objects” hosted by the decolonial activist association Leipzig postcolonial and the Grassi museum marked the end of the three-day workshop. (sg)

Workshop inputs by

  • Temi Odumosu (Malmö)
  • El Hadji Malick Ndiaye (Dakar)
  • Paola Ivanov (Berlin)
  • Christian Jarling (Bremen)
  • Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja (Windhoek/Cape Town)
  • Peju Layiwola (Lagos)
  • Eva Bahl (Göttingen/Munich)
  • Regina Sarreiter (Stuttgart)
  • Greer Valley (Cape Town/Durban)
  • Larissa Förster (Berlin)
  • Wazi Apoh (Accra)
  • Sam Hopkins (Cologne/Nairobi)
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