The Joys of Joint Artistic and Ethnographic Explorations into a Colonial Collection

Syowia Kyambi and Mareike Späth

Kaspale‘s Archive Intrusion VI/Postcard series‘, Postcard Paper, Edition of 10, 34,5 x 10 cm, MARKK Museum, Hamburg, Germany, 2019.

In 2019, we found ourselves involved in a research and exhibition project that set about to explore the past, present and presence of Amani, a former German colonial research station in East Africa's Usambara mountains. The project took the said site as a point of departure to ask about traces of colonial scientific engagement in today's world, views, and relations. For six weeks Syowia Kyambi was in residency at the Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) in Hamburg, where Mareike Späth worked as assistant curator for the Africa collection.
Together, we looked for objects and photographs in the MARKK collection that link Amani to Hamburg and thus document the historical engagement as well as the contemporary entanglement of places and people. While Mareike followed a rather classical approach of provenance research departing from the collection's documentation and ethnographic literature, Syowia practised a more intuitive and intervention-driven concept with the aim to produce a piece or performance for the exhibition. At every step during the process, our individual knowledge and working routines interfered with and inspired the other's approaches and attitudes, and at the same time our common ideas and plans constantly challenged habitual procedures inside the institution.
The joint venture into Amani confronted us with a number of absurdities, which helped us travel further, learn more, think afresh and bring new knowledge and meaning to the archives and the works we create from it. Our determination to bring together our very different ways of engaging with this colonial collection not only positively influenced our individual perspectives, but also resulted in a very intimate and immediate opportunity to reflect on the question of where the colonial past relates to our today's lives. Some of the questions, challenges and benefits we encountered on methodological level during this collaborative and cooperative process inspired us to ponder on this experience in an audio-visual format.

Understanding our work on colonial collections and archives as an ongoing, open ended and inclusive process, we created this site to start a dialogue about collaborative projects across disciplines, continents, and methods of research and presentation. At this stage, we are curious to enter dialogue with everybody interested or experienced in similar ventures and invite everybody to participate in this reflexive and reflective process.

Kaspale’s Archive Intrusion VII/Postcard series‘, Postcard Paper, Edition of 10, 34,5 x 10 cm, MARKK Museum, Hamburg, Germany, 2019.

Please use the comment-box below to share your experiences, thoughts, questions, and critique related to collaborative research into colonial archives in general or our project in particular. This dialogue will be open until July 31st. Then we'll digest what's been written into another format, a next step in the process of inventing way to deal with colonial collections and archives.

"What are your personal experiences with collaborative research and knowledge production in colonial archives?"
"When working with colonial archives on your own, is there anything you miss?"
"The above clip leaves me with the following thought(s) or question(s)…"
"Any other comment? Or thoughts in connection to this film?"

Kaspale‘s Archive Intrusion III/Postcard series‘, Postcard Paper, Edition of 10, 34,5 x 10 cm, MARKK Museum, Hamburg, Germany, 2019.


Syowia Kyambi is an interdisciplinary artist and curator who works across photography, video, drawing, sound, sculpture, and performance installation. Her work examines how our contemporary human experience is influenced by constructed histories and how the past affects our present, influencing the ideas of the future. She creates installations that explore cultural identities and linking them to issues of loss, memory, race, perception, hierarchical systems, and gender. The work is messy, complex, and uneasy, while asking important questions about what is remembered, what is archived, and how we see the world anew. One of her key concerns is to find out what it means to work critically yet creatively inside an ethnographic museum, using archive material and responding to site-specific spaces. For the Amani project, she spent research time in Amani, Tanzania as well as the MARKK Museum, Hamburg. Her work has been exhibited widely on four continents and she has received numerous distinctions. For more details and information on her work see https://syowiakyambi.com/



Mareike Späth's work focuses on historiography and practices of the past in the present. She is particularly interested in entangled histories and heritage of Africa and Europe, their (non-)representation in public places and public history, as well as unofficial and alternative narratives. She critically engages with German colonial historiography and memory, especially with the discipline’s entanglement in these processes. Having spent some years researching and lecturing at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz and at Goethe-University Frankfurt, she has re-focussed on working with and about ethnographic collections. As curatorial assistant for the African collection at the Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt in Hamburg, she co-curated the Amani exhibition. She is now curator for the ethnographic collection at the Landesmuseum Hannover. While much of her work goes into provenance research she dedicates her curiosity and creativity to the creation of an appropriate present and future for these sensitive collections. For further information see.


See also: Paul Wenzel Geißler, René Gerrets, Ann H. Kelly and Peterangesho (eds.), 2019: Amani. Auf den Spuren einer kolonialen Forschungsstation in Tansania. Bielefeld: transcript.



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