#1: The Physical Traces of Colonialism

Free entry
Language: English

In this seminar we will consider how we can use exhibitions, dissemination of information and artworks to work with colonial heritage and its present-day impressions. Cecil Marie Schou Pallesen and Ulrik Høj Johnsen will highlight how the collecting, processing and dissemination of objects from colonial and postcolonial countries can generate collaboration, dialogue and reflection on history and on current relations between nations. Using the exhibition Other Tales as a starting point, artist Sammy Baloji will talk about his artistic practice. A practice characterised by a methodically decolonising gaze aimed at other tales than the common Western tale in regards to the events of colonialism. Other Tales can be experienced at Kunsthal Aarhus from 21.08.–01.11.

You can join a guided tour of Baloji’s exhibition Other Tales prior to the seminar, participation limit at 15 people. The guided tour and the seminar is free, but requires registration.

NB: The planned live stream for this seminar is unfortunately cancelled

Moderator: Mads Anders Baggesgaard, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Aarhus University and Head of CLSC

Cecil Marie Schou Pallesen, Anthropologist and Postdoctoral Researcher at Moesgaard Museum
Ulrik Høj Johnsen, Anthropologist and Curator at Moesgaard Museum
Sammy Baloji, exhibiting artist at Kunsthal Aarhus. Sammy Baloji will be joining us online

About Cecil Pallesen's introduction:
Since the 1960s, the UNESCO Collections at Moesgaard Museum have offered teaching collections to schools all over Denmark. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and made by anthropologists, the collections aim to tell stories about everyday lives in places all over the planet, opening Danish students’ minds to other ways of being in the world. Taking her point of departure in her work with a new UNESCO collection named The Migrant’s Home, which focuses on people of Indian origin living in Tanzania, curator Cecil Pallesen poses the questions: why should a Danish museum teach students about people living in other countries? Why use ethnographic artefacts in the teaching? And how to create dialogue through collections? Reflecting upon the practice of co-creation with the people the collection is about, and on the efforts to provide a sense of context in the teaching material, she discusses how museums can try to accommodate the challenges of ethnocentrism and neo-colonialism.

About Ulrik Høj Johnsen's introduction:
A wood carved statue from the 18th century depicting the Buddhist goddess Tara is among the 50.000 ethnographic artefacts in Moesgaard Museum. The statue was acquired in the Kathmandu Valley in the 1950s, where it had been worshipped as a living deity among the Newars, one the numerous ethnic groups in Nepal. In January 2018, Tara was on ‘a divine visit’ in Nepal as a part of an exhibition, which toured around the Kathmandu Valley. The process to prepare and display the exhibition revealed that many Newars see Tara’s presence in Denmark – and implicitly, absence in Nepal – as ‘troubling’. Such reflections on the presence artefacts in ethnographic museums in the Global North is not unusual. Increasingly over the last 30 years, ethnographic museums have been met with claims for repatriation of the artefacts from their various ‘originating communities’. As material evidence of the transfer of objects, whether defined as ‘ethnographic artefacts’ or ‘art’ (as well as other valuables) from ‘global peripheries’ to ‘global centers’, ethnographic museum artefacts seem to trapped in a zero-sum game, which has exposed existing open wounds inflicted in the past – often a colonial past. The question is, how we heal the wounds? Returning ethnographic artefacts is one approach. There might be, on the other hand, other approaches, which aspires to build bridges. By way of the museum artefact Tara from Nepal, Ulrik Høj Johnsen has explored the potential of ethnographic museum artefacts to facilitate dialogues and collaboration between Moesgaard Museum and the ethnic group, the Newars, in the Kathmandu Valley. In collaboration with a group of MA students in Nepal, Johnsen designed and displayed an exhibition, which toured around the Kathmandu Valley in January 2018. As a part of this process, the group of MA students, their lecturer, the exhibition visitors as well as diverse epistemic partners were invited to a ‘third space’ of dialogue, reflection and collaboration in search of ways to navigate not only difficult pasts, but indeed also potential futures.

The Persistence of Colonialism

We tend to speak of colonialism from a merely historical perspective. By using a term like post colonialism, it is even implied that we are ready to consider the colonial as a thing of the past. Yet, the question remains; is colonialism truly a closed chapter and have the colonial machinery ceased to exist? Have previous power and racism structures mutated into new shapes? Has global capitalism sprung from a colonialist mindset?

During this series of seminars, we will explore how colonialism affects the world of today: From pandemic power structures to an individual’s sense of self. By delving into different aspects of colonialism, we will try to understand and broaden the debate on the colonial period in a way which enables new knowledge and understanding of the world. 

The Persistence of Colonialism is related to three solo exhibitions by Congolese Sammy Baloji (1978), Belgian Sven Augustijnen (1970) and Jamaican Ebony G. Patterson (1981) in Kunsthal Aarhus. The seminar series is created in partnership between the Centre for the Study of the Literatures and Cultures of Slavery (CSLC), Aarhus University and Kunsthal Aarhus and in collaboration with Moesgaard Museum.

At each seminar, one specific perspective on colonialism will be presented and discussed by invited artists, researchers and curators who work with this particular aspect. All seminars will be moderated by Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Head of CLSC, Mads Anders Baggesgaard.

Cecil Marie Schou Pallesen. Courtesy Moesgaard Museum
Cecil Marie Schou Pallesen. Courtesy Moesgaard Museum
Ulrik Høj Johnsen. Courtesy Moesgaard Museum
Ulrik Høj Johnsen. Courtesy Moesgaard Museum
Sammy Baloji. Photo: Sophie Nuytten
Sammy Baloji. Photo: Sophie Nuytten

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