Under the first round of proposals in 2022, the German Lost Art Foundation approved around 1.6 million euros for nine research projects dealing with colonial contexts
When we talk of former colonies, we tend to mean regions in the so-called Global South. But colonial oppression took place in the far north, too: the Sámi suffered under so-called “Nordic colonialism”. The only indigenous societies in Europe – those situated in the northern regions of Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula in Russia – lost most of the material evidence of their culture as a result of oppression by the nation states. The most important Sámi collection outside Northern Europe is currently to be found in the Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK – Museum of European Cultures) in Berlin-Dahlem. This inventory is now to be systematically processed: as part of a project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation and in close cooperation with Sámi partners, the MEK is investigating the origins of some 1,000 objects and photographs.
In order to clarify how these cultural assets found their way into German collections – from Scandinavia, East Africa and China, as well as human remains from former colonial regions – the Executive Board of the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg has now approved nine research proposals in the area of “colonial contexts” on the recommendation of its funding advisory board under the first round of proposals in 2022, approving a total of around 1.6 million euros in project funding. Seven new projects were applied for, while two existing projects are to be extended.
In addition to the question of the origin of objects and human remains, the focus will also be on the role of colonial institutions. The Deutsches Institut für tropische und subtropische Landwirtschaft (DITSL – German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture), for example, is not only investigating its collection at the Witzenhausen Museum, it is also looking into the history of the former colonial school in Witzenhausen, which was a training centre for young men who were to contribute to building an economy in the colonies. Another project sheds light on colonial collections in art museums and artists’ estates: the University of Cologne is researching the provenance of artefacts found in the collections of the Brücke artists Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel and Max Pechstein, among others. The aim is to raise awareness of the fact that thousands of objects of unclear origin from colonial contexts are stored not only in ethnological museums but also in art collections – and too few questions are asked.
The German Lost Art Foundation (Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste) in Magdeburg, founded on 1 January 2015 by the Federal Government, the Länder and the leading municipal associations, is the central point of contact in Germany for questions concerning unlawfully seized cultural property. The Foundation receives institutional funding from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media; this is also the source of funding for its projects. The Foundation’s main focus is on cultural assets seized under National Socialism as a result of persecution, especially Jewish property. Since January 2019, when the German Lost Art Foundation was expanded to include a Department for Colonial Contexts, it has also been possible to apply for funding for projects that deal with cultural property and collections originating from colonial contexts. Since then, a total of around 6 million euros has been approved for 50 projects in this area.
Proposals for longer-term projects can be submitted by 1 January and 1 June of each year; proposals for short-term projects can be submitted at any time. All institutions in Germany under public law that collect, preserve or research collections from colonial contexts are eligible to apply. This includes museums, universities and other research institutions. Since 1 January 2021, proposals have also been accepted from institutions that are recognised as non-profit organisations and have their registered office in Germany.