Museum Cooperation Between Africa and Europe: A New Field for Museum Studies is a significant contribution to the critical discourse on a fundamental question: What is a museum? The compendium comprises papers presented at the December 2016 conference of the Swiss Society for African Studies (SSAS) and the Swiss Anthropological Association (SAA), Museum Cooperation between Africa and Europe: Opportunities, Challenges and Modalities. Organized and hosted by the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich, it was convened for the presentation of papers by academics and museum practitioners on critical issues and theories detailing a wide range of varying transcontinental cooperative projects over several decades. The editors, Laely, Meyer, and Schwere, selected thirteen case studies by sixteen contributors. The assembled chapters demonstrate detailed outcomes and proposals documenting a number of cooperative projects in Africa springing from, or in response to, distinct political and cultural histories, multiyear scholarly research projects, transnational grant programs, and traumatic internecine wars described through the lens of postcolonialism.
The essays detail and review varying museum-related partnerships, collaborations, and networks representing projects carried out between African museums in ten countries1 along with governmental and nongovernmental bodies in North America and Europe.2 The wide selection of programs was directed and managed by an array of museum professionals, curators, educators, archeologists, anthropologists, a royal court (in the case of Cameroon), and start-ups by independent artists reaching out to surrounding communities.
The editors' introduction—“Rethinking Museum Cooperation Between Africa and Europe: Do We Need a New Paradigm?”— considers the tense debate that opened the 2016 conference during an especially fraught exchange on asymmetrical relationships of the many participants who had to labor with inequalities of political/cultural power, lack of sustainable infrastructure, and shortage of financial support. Each of the thirteen essays challenges conventional Western definitions of museums, both established and contemporary. As a result of widely varying encounters, the editors worked to organize the papers into four sections: Mapping the Field: History and Context of Museum Cooperation Between Africa and Europe; Local Communities and International Networks: Partnership Relations; Accessibility of Collections from Africa; and Critique and Evaluation of Museum Cooperation.
Two forewords provide a framework for the essays. “Heterodoxy and the Internationalization and Regionalization of Museums and Museology” by Anthony Shelton is a thoughtful overview of collection practices and definitions of collaborations in anthropological museology. “Building a Critical Museology in Africa” by Ciraj Rasool lays a groundwork for rethinking museum collections, leadership, and international development.
Within the surge of recent scholarship on decolonization and repatriation, a number of authors make clear that there is much to be gained from zooming out to examine the difficult history of establishing museums in Africa. With thoughts on the fundamental struggles of postcolonialism, relevancy, and lack of financial support, essays take on notions of cultural ownership: its collection, possession, representation, and presentation. The evolution of partnerships as described in this volume has implications for international relations and roads to repatriation—and for not only visions of inclusion but also sovereignty and control by local communities and potentials for new forms of engagement. Their accounts shape compelling demands for museum decolonization and straddle new debates among colleagues about what museums are, along with their mission statements representing significant and highly divergent collecting, exhibition, interpretation, and preservation objectives. Each of the case studies in this volume can be read for insights into specific project challenges and lessons reflected within specific (albeit a narrow number of) African countries and/or ethnic groups and the questions of sustainability and support that they pose.
Essays in Part I argue for major shifts to African models that could serve in the construction of a new museology positioning partners as equals, including and more often prioritizing (reviwer's emphasis) community voices and indigenous knowledge systems, and extending to restitution and repatriation, among other far-reaching challenges. George Okello Abungu observes in “Connected by History, Divided by Reality: Eliminating Suspicion and Promoting Cooperation between African and European Museums” that for cooperation to succeed, “there must be trust, interest, commitment, and a give-and-take situation and attitude” (p. 36). He notes five key weaknesses and imbalances of many postcolonial programs and strategies and suggests the museum structure itself may be antithetical to African aesthetic values. Germain Loumpet's essay “Cooperation Between European and African Museums: A Paradigm for Demusealization?” is a sober and insightful assessment, focusing on numerous twentieth century European cooperation projects with African museums that sparked power struggles at various levels. These include the State (Cameroon) emerging as cultural controller over ethnicity during the repatriation of the Afo-A-Kom; Western concepts of black art advocated at symposiums such as the 1st World Festival of Black Arts, Dakar, Senegal (1966); heritage and identity conflicts that intersect between Cameroonian chiefdoms and minority ethnic groups and comparable examples in Mali; historical museums created based on international policies, nationalism, cultural tourism, and protecting the environment.
Part II spotlights examples of local communities that, along with their valuable indigenous knowledge, were invited into the curatorial process. Jesmael Mataga, in “Shifting Knowledge Boundaries in Museums: Museum Objects, Local Communities and Curatorial Shifts in African Museums,” explores the question of “what is sacred?” By establishing the valid expertise of local knowledge holders in the curatorial and exhibition processes, an important sacred object, the Mukwati walking stick, was reinstalled in a radical way. Rosalie Hans focuses on new museum practices in independent nonstate contemporary museums in East Africa, often in remote areas, in “Who Shapes the Museums? Exploring the Impact of International Networks on Contemporary East African Museums.” Included in her discussion are descriptions of sites (re)developed for cultural tourism, heritage clubs, and the challenges of exploiting intangible cultural heritage in creating a gateway for visitors. “The Road to Reconciliation, Museum Practice, Community Memorials and Collaborations in Uganda” is based on an exhibition collaboration between the Uganda National Museum and the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage. Nelson Adebo Abiti writes on the memorialization of war and cultural reconstruction in an introspective and reflective essay on restoring social bonds and family networks disconnected during the monstrous atrocities and trauma that occurred during two decades of civil war.
Part III centers on the accessibility of African collections in Western museums, the problems involved in rights of access, and sensitive issues surrounding African art in private collections. Urbanization, new patterns of global consumption, immigration, class formation, and digitization technology have changed very significantly over the past generation, both in the West and across Africa. Of interest is an exploration of a late nineteenth-early twentieth century Swiss missionary collection held in more than one museum site considered by Cynthia Kros and Anneliese Menert in “The Junod Collection: A New Generation of Cooperation Between Europe and Africa”; Jeremy Silvester in “The Africa Accessioned Network”; and Kiprop Lagat in “The Hazina Exhibition: Challenges and Lessons for International Museum Collaboration.” Viewed from a range of national and international perspectives, these papers offer successful models of cooperative projects, exhibition loans and exchanges, and professional development highlighting ongoing efforts of digital repatriation and community engagement with photographs. “Artworks Abroad: Ugandan Art in German Collections” by Katrin Peters-Klaphake is based on a four-year research project conducted with an eye to documenting and understanding mid-twenieth century collecting and exhibiting practices of private German collectors of African modernism (1960s–1990s): paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures. The essay opens up relevant issues of poorly documented modes of sale, trade, and transactions. The author discusses the significant impact of German collectors whose self-assigned expert status has implications for the social and historical record as well as questions of legal ownership and provenance. This essay joins the ongoing theoretical interest in and growing number of scholars who are in the process of writing the history of modern and contemporary African art.
Part IV comprises three essays that critique the many challenges of cooperative Afro-European programs. “New Considerations in Afro-European Museum Cooperation in Africa: The Examples of PREMA and Other Initiatives in Ghana” is a discussion by Kwame Amoah Labi of the colonial legacy and the many systemic problems Ghanaian museums and collections encounter and confront. Using the Prevention in Museums in Sub-Saharan Africa (PREMA) project and the Centre for Heritage Development in Africa (CHDA), this five-part, robust analysis of the impact of Western interventions in museum practices and development argues for a complete paradigm shift to bring long-term benefits. “Investigating Museum Development in Africa: From Museum Cooperation to the Appropriation of Praxis,” Emery Patrick Effiboley reviews three partnership projects and concludes that long-term sustainable support to the African museum sector remains variable and unpredictable. Part IV ends with Michaela Oberhofer's “Conservation and Restoration as a Challenge for Museum Cooperation: The Case of the Palace Museum in Foumban, Cameroon.” This is a truly effective and revealing chapter unlocking the methods and mission of two partners—the Palace Museum in Foumban, Cameroon, and the Rietberg Museum in Zuriich, Switzerland—that collaborated on the 2008 international exhibition Cameroon: Art of the Kings. An instructive lesson on the similarities and differences between local (African) and international (Western) concepts of repair and restoration are illustrative of issues of authenticity, shifts in style, and the appropriation of international best practices and techniques.
The conclusion, written by Cyntha Kros, is an exceptionally strong summary and assessment, giving excellent insights into all the themes in this publication and thereby making the case studies highly accessible within this volume. “What Are the Opportunities, Challenges, and Modalities for African and European Museum Cooperation?” addresses the historic challenges shaped by imperialism and the wounds and ravages of colonialism while citing significant attempts to drive effective and, most importantly, sustainable cooperation between African museums and their European counterparts. Kros highlights many of the foundational issues that have beleaguered cooperative projects since independence movements, beginning in the late 1950s and continuing up to today: much of the extant literature considers only a narrow range of institutions; case studies are more descriptive than analytical; widely divergent ideas that Africans and Europeans debate about the purposes and functions of material objects and their exhibition and interpretation; absence of recognition for the difficult conditions African partners operate under, especially with unpredictable changes of political regimes; scarce and faulty technology, computer hardware, and unreliable internet connections.
Building relationships between European and North American museums and the African communities from whom their collections derive has never been more urgent. An audience with special interest in museum studies, museology, African art, or cultural anthropology; policy leaders involved in demands for restitution between sovereign states and indigenous peoples; specialists and scholars working to rethink the role of museums and their collections and international practices and power balances in partnerships will be most interested. Clearer outlines of cooperation, collaboration, and partnership still need work to be defined and codified by studies like these to signal an emergence of a new field for museum studies. Beyond the many projects listed, this important collection serves to bring together noteworthy foundational references for a new field for museum studies. Publication of this anthology is remarkably timely and adds significant substance to rethinking the structure of museums and consideration of issues of immediate museum concern, especially restitution and repatriation. Museum Cooperation Between Africa and Europe can fill a gap in the present scope of museum-based literature and serve as a valuable resource for the many international symposia and upcoming conferences involving the conversations and collaborations among activists, curators, educators, museum workforces, artists, academics, and diaspora groups.
Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Switzerland, England, Norway, Trust for African Rock Art (TARA), Getty Foundation, UNESCO, ICOM, Organization of African Unity (OAU), World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar (1966); ICCROM; European Development Fund (EU); Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage; Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities; Smithsonian Institution, Carnegie Institute, et al.