On the 9th and 10th of March 2020 the workshop "Provenance Research and Contested Heritage of Colonial Contexts" was held in Nkongsamba at the Institut des Beaux-Arts (IBA) of the University of Douala. The event was organised by Rachel Mariembe (lecturer of museology at the IBA) and the two PAESE staff members Isabella Bozsa of the Städtische Museum Braunschweig and Bianca Baumann of the Landesmuseum Hannover. The focus of the two-day workshop, which was mainly aimed at students of museology, was the presentation of the two museums and the PAESE research project as well as the discussion of the research questions of the two doctoral students. Thus, the debate on how to deal with collections from colonial contexts, using the example of the Cameroonian objects in Hanover and Brunswick, was an important aspect of the workshop.
After Professor Annette Angoua, the director of the Institute, officially opened the workshop, the respective museum and exhibition histories, collection managements as well as the depot situations of the two museums were presented at the request of the Institute's lecturers. The programme was prepared jointly by the organisers, so that the needs and wishes of both the Institute and the PAESE staff were met. More than 100 students of different disciplines (e.g. art history, architecture, museology) and all lecturers of the institute participated. The students of museology were particularly interested in the various documentation systems (index cards, databases, inventory books) as well as conservation aspects of object preservation. During the discussion, it was suggested, among other things, that the combination of Cameroonian and European conservation techniques could be a profitable approach.
In the afternoon of the first day a participatory exercise was conducted, for which the number of participants was reduced. About 20 Master students developed video statements on selected objects that are in the two collections in Lower Saxony. In small groups, the students selected objects (in the form of object images) and were first asked to describe them and to present their meaning. They were then given the task of considering how provenance research could be carried out on the object, who the actual owner is, from which environment the object comes, and what kind of culture of remembrance spans around the object. In the final analysis, the question of what should happen to the object in the future was also at the heart of the exercise. At the end of the day, a variety of statements were made, whereby the diversity of voices on the question of restitution became obvious. You can find selected statements under the photos on the right. The exercise captured the opinions of people who will be the museum experts of tomorrow, but who are not represented in the current debate.
On the second day the focus was on the topic of provenance research. After an introduction to the debate and the research project PAESE, the two sub-projects in Brunswick and Hanover were presented. Following discussions on the meaning of the objects, the debate on restitution issues was intensified in the afternoon. This revealed diverging ideas and different positions in Europe and Cameroon. Likewise, the questions of whether there may have been lawful appropriations during the colonial period, to whom and where things should be restituted and how restitution could be implemented in practice were discussed in detail.
The dialogue with the students of the Institute in Nkongsamba brought to light new aspects and questions that can only be developed in a bilateral dialogue. This is essential in order to address the shared history and to negotiate the handling of ethnographic objects from colonial contexts. Involving future museum employees in this negotiation process and taking them seriously can lead to a sustainable and enduring dialogue. A diversity of opinions has emerged that must be taken into consideration in order to promote the decolonization of museums with ethnographic collections. The workshop offered the students insights into two German museums and the working methods in both, into the debates on how to deal with collections from colonial contexts in Europe as well as examples of possible career paths in museum work. The continuation of the cooperation between PAESE and the Institut des Beaux-Arts in Nkongsamba is desired by both sides and the involvement of the students in further projects is intended.