Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures

Collaborative Conservation and Knowledge Production of the Historical Collections from Namibia held at the Ethnological Museum Berlin and the National Museum of Namibia, Windhoek (2019–2024)

Nehoa Kautondokwa, Cynthia Schimming and Julia Binter mit okadina ‚(Kok)Olugondo, in the depot of the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin.
Filmstill from Tracing Namibian-German Collaborations, a film by Moritz Fehr © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2020.

How can we develop more equitable and sustainable ways of collaboratively researching, curating and returning collections from colonial contexts?

The project ‘Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures’ focuses on the preservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and the unlocking of the healing and creative potential of the colonial collections from Namibia at the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin and at the National Museum of Namibia.

It aims to establish sustainable research and curatorial methods with which to welcome home objects, reconnect them to oral histories, visual and performing arts and crafts and safeguard the ICH surfacing in these processes.

The five-year long project (2019-2024) has already facilitated the selection and return of 23 objects from the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin to the National Museum of Namibia and the improvement of the storage and conservation infrastructure in Namibia. An exhibition of the collaborative research process is on show at the Humboldt Forum.

Cynthia Schimming and Renate Sander in the design atelier of the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin. Filmstill from Tracing Namibian-German Collaborations, a film by Moritz Fehr © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2020.

Phase II

Phase II of the project (July 2022 – July 2024) sets out to rethink the role of museums in the postcolonial society of Namibia and works towards transforming museums from sole keepers of objects and authoritative forms of display into community resource centres where a variety of forms of knowledge is produced, preserved and made accessible for future generations.

Moreover, the project will liaise with several international research projects in the field of restitution research/practice and of safeguarding tangible and intangible heritage.

This will not only help exchange experiences and expertise between heritage practitioners in the Global South and in Europe, but also forge new relationships and networks within which strategies and policies for the return of cultural heritage to Namibia can be developed further.

Project Partners

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

Funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.