Museum Security Network



“The restitution of those cultural objects which our museums and collections, directly or indirectly, possess thanks to the colonial system and are now being demanded, must also not be postponed with cheap arguments and tricks.”

Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause.(1)

We pointed out in our last article some of the strange ideas of the President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the body that controls the Humboldt Forum where African artefacts, formerly in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, will be transferred. We assumed then that our clear exposition had shown the weakness of some of the reasoning behind his statements and ideas. (2) To our dismay, some of those ideas, coupled with new ones, have been repeated in recent statements. We plead the indulgence of the reader to bear with us while we look at some of these ideas, with Goethe on our side on the need to repeat the truth.

In an interview dated February 2018, Dr. Herrmann Parzinger, repeating an idea of Neil Macgregor, former director of the British Museum and now a founding director of the Humboldt Forum, declares that we need new stories: There must be new stories.(Es muss neue Erzählungen geben)(3)Like Macgregor, Parzinger is uncomfortable with the history of the looted African artefacts in Western museums and would like to tell a different history but knows the history of violent attacks and robbery by Europeans in Africa and Asia are too well established. He would like to tell stories with the African objects when they are moved to the new location. Note the choice of words- ‘stories’ and not ‘histories’.What never seems to occur to Western museum experts who want to tell the stories of others, especially Africans, is that Africans may want to tell their own histories with the objects now withheld from them. This appears inconceivable to many Westerners. Perhaps they think we have some irreparable congenital deficiencies that prevent us from telling our own histories.

The desire to tell stories rather than histories of artefacts has become widespread with Western ethnologists who invite-specialists and even non-specialists to tell their own stories with the looted objects. (4) With such practices, true histories are submerged, with the ethnologists gladly proclaiming that they have no monopoly of interpretation of the objects. Each visitor makes his own interpretation even if he has not studied ethnology; your interpretation is as good as mine even although I spent three years doing a degree in ethnology, and 4 years in obtaining a doctorate.With this attitude, some exhibitions, pretending ignorance of the histories of the looted objects, refuse even to give you the barest information about the objects exhibitede.gUnvergleichlich-Kunst aus Africa in Bode- Museum. This attitude matches perfectly the cry for more provenance research, as if nothing were known already about the objects displayed. (5)

In response to a question about Macron’s suggestion to return African artefacts in French museums, Parzinger that it is an interesting suggestion but asks: ‘‘Only the question is which museum will return which object and for which reason and to which African museum? Who takes such a decision, the museums, or the political authorities?’’ Parzinger states that such questions must be decided by an international conference. The raising of such questions is part of the new credo of German authorities to plead ignorance about the African artefacts that have been lying in their museum for more than hundred years. We shall answer these questions in an annexe. (6)

Twice in this short interview, Parzinger challenges the general opinion that a large number of the artefacts in the ethnological museums are looted/ stolen:

‘One should not always act as if all objects were stolen’.

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