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Of(F) Museums Issues Concerning The Presentation Of Some Photographs In The Open Air

1220 words - 5 pages

The shot shows a male figure viewing photographs. We see the person from the rear, look over his shoulder, past him, as he passes along the collection of images, and at the same time we look into some of the faces that are visible in the photos and which seem to be looking at us outside of the picture frame rather than at the person in the picture viewing them. We are dealing here with black-and white photographs from the late 1920s, which, among others, were taken by the German anthropologist and racial theorist Egon von Eickstedt between 1926 and 1929.1 A selection of these pictures, created in connection with research into the indigenous population of India listed under the generic term ...view middle of the document...

The origin of the photograph in question goes back to a linkage of transnational initiatives and interests. The starting point was initially the planning of an exhibition for the “Museum of Voice,” entitled “Purvajo-ni Aankh” (Through the Eye of the Ancestors), which was shown in January 2012. With the goal of creating more awareness for the relationship between the Adivasi heritage and the Rathwa Community based in this location, the local curator Narayan Rathwa selected and compiled material taken from three European photo archives.3 This initiative was integrated into the fourth “Chotro” congress, which took place in Vadodara (Gujarat) between 6th and 8th January 2012 and was made possible by a cooperation between the Bhasha Research Centre4 and the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. Both institutions have made it their aim to preserve and document languages in danger of being forgotten. In this context, there was a special focus on the languages of the Adivasi and hence the possibility of giving a voice to this section of India’s population, which society has excluded. In addition, the aim was to give the Adivasi people, their history and their concerns a different form of visibility by showing photographs from European archives. An ambivalent form of visibility politics that triggers a whole series of questions.

My colleague Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer and I accompanied the team of European ethnologists in order to document the encounters that these photographs would organise and design.5 With our background in Cultures Studies and an interest in curatorial issues we observed the ethnologists´ and linguists ´work with a particular interest in the way in which the meaning of things changes through cultural transfer. The main focus was on the basic question of whether or not and with what intention photographs such as these should be exhibited. Would not the perspective of race-theory, which had produced first and foremost the photographs, thus be re-imported into the region? As far as repatriation goes, in the form that ethnological museums are currently preoccupied with, the photos do not so much repatriate the photos as cultural possessions that were once stolen, but much more predominantly the “gaze” of the photographer who took them. In this sense, do the photographs hence have a similar status to that of the ethnological museums, which as institutions and mediums not only perpetuate the colonial exertion of power but also sustain it? If, as occurred recently, there is a debate about whether or not, subsequently ethnological museums should in fact be closed down,6 does this, analogically extended, also mean that photographs such as these should be destroyed together...

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