On 27 May, 23 artefacts from different Namibian communities, in the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin, travelled to Namibia to be reconnected with their communities of origin, researchers, artists, and the public in Namibia.

The project “Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures” is based on collaborative provenance research conducted with experts from Namibia in Berlin and will pave the way for future returns of artefacts from museums in Germany and Europe to Namibia. The project is funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

The collaborative project “Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures” seeks to unlock the healing and creative potential of the colonial collections from Namibia held at the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin (EM) and the National Museum of Namibia (NMN) in Windhoek. It reconnects the collections with each other and with their communities of origin, researchers, artists, and the public in Namibia. It supports the foundation of a new museum – The Museum of Namibian Fashion – and evaluates and improves the capacity and infrastructure in Namibia to welcome home artefacts from museums in Germany and Europe that will be returned to Namibia in the future.

At the heart of the project are four processes:
1) Conducting collaborative provenance research on the collections from Namibia at the Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (EM) and curating an exhibition about the research process at the Humboldt Forum.
2) Bringing artefacts from the EM in Berlin back to Namibia, based on collaborative provenance research, and bringing them into dialogue with the collections at the NMN.
3) Conducting workshops at the NMN using the artefacts of both museums (EM and NMN) with Namibian heritage experts, researchers, community representatives, and contemporary artists, as well as fieldwork using digitized collections in heritage communities throughout Namibia.
4) Working with the artefacts and digitized collections to expand the capacity and infrastructure of the NMN and the Museums Association of Namibia (MAN) in the fields of conservation, digitization, curatorial practice, and community engagement.

The project’s aim is to use these processes to reactivate knowledge about the artefacts, document and preserve immaterial and material cultural heritage, and provide a vital source of inspiration for artists and designers. The knowledge thus created, including oral histories, artworks, and documentation, will be shared with the wider public in an online database and in an exhibition at a newly founded Museum of Namibian Fashion in Otjiwarongo (as well as in an exhibition at the NMN in Windhoek and in a joint publication, both to be conceptualized in a subsequent phase of the project). By reconnecting stakeholders in Namibia with colonial collections from Berlin and Windhoek, the project seeks to engage with colonial trauma, spur new cultural production, and envision decolonial, creative futures.