Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

German Lost Art Foundation approves approx. €700,000 for seven research projects in the field of colonial contexts for the first time

Date 2019.09.11

Where do the 30 hu­man skulls and bones in the an­thro­po­log­i­cal col­lec­tion at the State Mu­se­um for Na­ture and Man in Old­en­burg come from? What should be done with them? What about the masks, an­ces­tral fig­ures, weapons, mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and jew­el­ry in the eth­no­log­i­cal mu­se­um in Lübeck that were col­lect­ed by Ger­man of­fi­cers and med­i­cal staff from the im­pe­ri­al pro­tec­tion force in Africa in the vicin­i­ty of the Herero and Na­ma geno­cide more than 100 years ago?

In or­der to clar­i­fy the prove­nance, and thus in­di­rect­ly al­so the where­abouts of items from the colo­nial era in Ger­man mu­se­ums, the Ex­ec­u­tive Board of the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion in Magde­burg has act­ed up­on the rec­om­men­da­tions of its nine-strong Fund­ing Com­mit­tee, and ap­proved sev­en re­search ap­pli­ca­tions in this field for the first time. It has ini­tial­ly grant­ed a to­tal of €703,589 in fund­ing for these projects.

The Com­mis­sion­er for Cul­ture and Me­dia, Moni­ka Grüt­ters said: “The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment-fund­ed Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress in driv­ing for­ward prove­nance re­search in­to col­lec­tions ac­quired dur­ing the colo­nial era. The projects in the first fund­ing round show how chal­leng­ing and com­plex, yet worth­while this task is. Now and in the fu­ture, the Foun­da­tion will help mu­se­ums and uni­ver­si­ties an­a­lyze their hold­ings by con­duct­ing de­tailed re­search with sen­si­tiv­i­ty. Cre­at­ing trans­paren­cy is the most im­por­tant pre­req­ui­site for un­der­stand­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

For around three years now, the de­bate on how to deal with ob­jects from colo­nial con­texts has been gain­ing mo­men­tum in Ger­many too, and mu­se­ums with African and oth­er non-Eu­ro­pean col­lec­tions have in­creas­ing­ly been ask­ing them­selves ques­tions about the ori­gin of items in their hold­ings and pos­si­ble re­turns. The re­cent­ly pub­lished ap­peal to “Öffnet die In­ventare!” (open the in­ven­to­ries), which came from more than 100 promi­nent sci­en­tists, cul­tur­al prac­ti­tion­ers and artists, un­der­lines the time­li­ness and ur­gen­cy of this sub­ject. “This call once again ve­he­ment­ly re­it­er­at­ed the fre­quent­ly heard de­mand for a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of hold­ings in mu­se­ums,” said Gilbert Lupfer, Ex­ec­u­tive Board mem­ber at the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion, in his as­sess­ment of the dis­cus­sion.

In Jan­uary 2019, the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion was ex­pand­ed to in­clude the spe­cial­ist field of colo­nial con­texts in re­sponse to a fund­ing man­date from the Foun­da­tion Board. Since then, it has been pos­si­ble to ap­ply for fund­ing for projects deal­ing with cul­tur­al goods and col­lec­tions of this sort. “Through our project fund­ing—which brings with it an obli­ga­tion for the find­ings to be pub­lished ex­ten­sive­ly—we are mak­ing an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to greater trans­paren­cy around col­lec­tion hold­ings from the colo­nial era,” said Gilbert Lupfer, de­scrib­ing the task.

The ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted by the dead­line of June 1, 2019, were made by mu­se­ums, uni­ver­si­ty-based col­lec­tions, and uni­ver­si­ties, some with co­op­er­a­tion part­ners in Ger­many and abroad. The sub­ject mat­ter of the planned projects not on­ly en­com­passed ethno­graph­ic and an­thro­po­log­i­cal col­lec­tions, but al­so arche­o­log­i­cal and nat­u­ral his­to­ry col­lec­tions.

A wide va­ri­ety of projects were ap­proved, with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the re­search pro­pos­als fo­cus­ing on hu­man re­mains, col­lec­tions and bun­dles of items orig­i­nat­ing from re­gions col­o­nized by the Ger­man Em­pire. The fund­ing re­cip­i­ents are large ethno­graph­ic mu­se­ums, small city and re­gion­al mu­se­ums, and mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary es­tab­lish­ments.

Ap­pli­ca­tions for longer-term projects may be sub­mit­ted by Jan­uary 1 and June 1 each year. Ap­pli­ca­tions can be sub­mit­ted by all pub­licly fund­ed in­sti­tu­tions in Ger­many that col­lect, hold or re­search cul­tur­al goods from colo­nial con­texts. They in­clude mu­se­ums, uni­ver­si­ties and oth­er re­search in­sti­tu­tions. “It is high­ly de­sir­able,” said Lupfer, “for the fund­ed in­sti­tu­tions to work close­ly with the com­mu­ni­ties of ori­gin wher­ev­er pos­si­ble, as their ex­pe­ri­ence and skills are cru­cial.” An overview of all the projects ap­proved in this ap­pli­ca­tion round is avail­able in the an­nex.