What is it all about? Attempts to Interpret the Biography of a Portrait Figure from the West Region of Cameroon by Bianca Baumann

Panel: Dialogues between Theory and Practice. Theoretical Approaches and Case Studies of Postcolonial Provenance Research 
Monday, 21 June, 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. (CET)


What does postcolonial provenance research want, what can it achieve and what does it have to provide? How can the study be conducted appropriately so that it produces results that are relevant to museum practice, historiography and the so-called societies of origin? How can it possibly withstand the tension of expectations?

Using the example of a portrait figure that a colonial officer from Hanover gave to the institution that was to become today's State Museum Hanover, it will be shown to what extent combined methods allow a complex picture of interpretations around the figure's biography to emerge. In order to assemble diverse narratives and interpretations of the object and its changing ownership, as well as to be able to frame and evaluate contemporary questions about its whereabouts and handling, both ethnological and historiographic methods were applied. With the help of approaches of both disciplines, historical conditions and social practices were reconstructed as well as contemporary attitudes, conceptions and interests with regards to the object’s past and future were revealed. Postcolonial theories form the framework for reflection. The diversity of interpretations of the object’s appropriation and corresponding conclusions that can be drawn for contemporary practice demonstrate the complexity of postcolonial provenance research and raise the question of what it is ultimately about.


Bianca Baumann works as a research associate and member of the project PAESE at the State Museum Hanover. She completed her curatorial traineeship at the museum in Hanover in 2017 where she curated the exhibitions Cedric Nunn. Unsettled and the Africa section of Difficult Legacy. Remnants of Colonialism today. She has also worked at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin and at a publishing house in London. At the universities in Mainz and Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), she studied Cultural Anthropology, African Linguistic Studies and Sociology. Her research interests include German Colonialism in Africa, particularly in Cameroon as well as the material cultural heritage of Africa.