Artistic Research and Communal Knowledge. Building Trust for a Better Future (2022–2024)

How can art help to bridge rural-urban and generational divides? The project ‘Artistic Research and Communal Knowledge’ builds on and closely interrelates with the collaborative research, curation and restitution project ‘Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures’.

It brings together contemporary artists and communal knowledge keepers and creators in Namibia to develop new, more equitable ways of sharing knowledge and skills across generations, class, and urban-rural divides.

At the heart of this process is the collaborative research into 23 culturally and historically significant objects or ‘cultural belongings’ that returned from the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin to Namibia in May 2022 as well as the historical collections at the National Museum of Namibia.

First Reconnections between artists, communal knowledge keepers and returned cultural belongings at the National Museum of Namibia. Photo: Willem Vrey for the project Artistic Research and Communal Knowledge, 2023.
Photo: Willem Vrey

Contemporary artists and communal knowledge keepers and creators will work together to reactivate the knowledge and skills related to the cultural belongings and, thereby, address and redress silences and gaps in Namibia’s historiography and cultural heritage resulting from the colonization of the country by the German Empire (1844-1915) and South Africa (1919-1990).

The contemporary artists will act as translators of communal knowledge, understood as oral histories, performative knowledge as well as artisanal skills, which have been preserved and cared for within communities, despite their violent suppression during colonialism and continued marginalization after Namibia’s independence.

In close collaboration with their communal research partners, the artists will create new bodies of work that will be shown in dialogue with the historical museum collections in an exhibition at the National Art Gallery.

The exhibition and the accompanying program are meant as a platform to engage a wider Namibian public on questions of restitution of cultural goods from colonial contexts and the role and value of communal knowledge and artistic research not just in the past and present, but also in the future of Namibia’s postcolony.

Project Partners

National Museum of Namibia
National Art Gallery of Namibia
Ethnologisches Museum/ Zentralarchiv
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz University of Bonn

Funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.