Unpacking Colonialism

Human Remains in German Collections – A Virtual Exhibition

Online from 25 March 2024

How do we want to deal with human remains from former German colonies in German collections? The digital exhibition “Unpacking Colonialism” provides first answers from the perspectives of five guest researchers from countries related to these collections.

Similar to many university collections, there are also human remains from former German and European colonies in Göttingen. Most of them were taken without the consent of the local people – by scientists, travelers, colonial officials or traders. Robbery and grave looting were not uncommon. Two Göttingen University Collections still hold around 1,300 human remains from various countries, including from Africa and Oceania.

What are the reflections of the guest researchers upon encountering these human remains in Göttingen? What questions and demands do they rise about the handling of these remains? With every cardboard box they open, they not only get a glimpse of the human remains stored inside.
At the same time, they open the chapter of European colonialism and its continuities that has remained closed for a long time in the
German context.

This exhibition centers around several short films made by the cultural anthropologist and filmmaker Sofia Leikam, in her attempt to develop a multi-layered picture of this sensitive topic. In three chapters – Introducing, Doing Research, Giving Context – each of these films portrays the visiting scientists and their different approaches, from archival work to work in the collections to artistic forms.

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