Wintersemester 2022/2023, Theorie und Geschichte +dimensions , Ausstellungen , theorie_geschichte_forschung

Colonial Presents

Is it possible to decolonize the museum, a colonial knowledge enterprise per excellence? Can artistic and curatorial practices offer avenues to set such processes in motion?


With this seminar/project, we enter the monument to German imperial nostalgia, the Humboldt Forum, to engage with colonialism and coloniality, reading, discussing and creating in discomfort.


In the last fifteen years, discussions about decolonization and decoloniality have seeped slowly into the German cultural sphere by way of criticism and artistic and curatorial practice from minority communities. The debates have also entered the museum, with the question of decolonization being taken up through various one-off projects.


More often than not, these debates have been amalgamated with practices responding to critiques about the museum’s lack of representation of a large amount of the population. But although the concerns overlap in certain respects, both questions – the issue of representation and the issue of decolonization – differ fundamentally. A decolonial approach does not look to ameliorate a current state of affairs, rather, it questions the museum's raison d'être; it investigates the museum as instrument of empire in the construction and export of racist knowledge regimes, it analyzes how the museum perpetuates colonial violences, and it responds with ideas for possible futures.


Under this light, this seminar asks: how to (mis)understand an ethnographic museum within a reconstructed imperial palace in the 21st century? How could we, as artists and curators, engage with the evidence of colonial violence in the form of looted property and sequestered beings, while waiting for restitution?


To approach these questions we will read authors including Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, but also delve into the German debates on postcolonial museums, and the very specific case of the Humboldt Forum and its relation to German colonialism.


The course will have both a theoretical and a practical dimension:

In the theory dimension of the course, students will 1. get acquainted with central tenants and concerns of decolonial theory, with an emphasis on the dyad modernity/coloniality as developed principally by Latin American theorists, 2. develop a critical approach to museums, while engaging with methodologies by Indigenous scholars, 3. engage in current debates about curatorial and artistic approaches to colonial heritages, and 4. be introduced to criticism and examples from the German speaking areas. Our sources will be texts, as well as invited speakers including scholars, artists and curators, who will offer perspectives from their practices.


For the practice dimension, we will engage with the exhibitions opened this September 2022 at the Humboldt Forum. We will work in an interdisciplinary colloquium situation engaging with and supporting each other’s aesthetic searches, developing new work that responds to the theoretical input and the spaces visited.


The artistic work will result in an intervention within the exhibition „Leerstellen.Austellen“ at the Humboldt Forum.

Supervision Juana Awad
Project categoryProject Project subjects Theorie und Geschichte
Bichas Serie (Detail)
Bichas Serie (Detail)