Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

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

Date 2022.05.25

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.