Is Euro-centrism overcome when art collections are globalized and expanded by what was previously excluded? What comes and what remains after Euro-centrism when its forms are reproduced worldwide? With its long-term project Kanon-Fragen, HKW develops research-based exhibitions that grapple critically with the canonization of modernity. Exhibitions like Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present c.1930 and Parapolitics. Cultural Freedom and the Cold War not only expanded the canon established in the museums, but question their structures. For the colonial appropriations and exclusions of the past cannot be corrected without exposing the problems of the structural foundations of art, its delimitation from folklore, ritual or craft and its role in society. Rectifying the canon of modernity remains dubious if the debate about art itself, its place in society and its economic function are not taken seriously. If the institution of “art” remains unquestioned, the extension of the canon will ultimately lead to further appropriation: The Western framework will be transferred to the history of “world art” and global contemporary art.

Ethnology today is on wobbly footing due to the discussions of restitution and its involvement in colonial injustice. But this should be the occasion to address its critical potential and differentiate the historical view of discipline. We can’t do without ethnology. How else could we radically question our own categories of world perceptions if not in the categorically “impure” zone of ethnographic knowledge? Nevertheless, it is necessary that we criticize the ethnographic gaze and even more: It must be radicalized, precisely defined and differentiated. Alternative narratives of modernity cannot exist without the ambivalences of ethnographic border crossers. The desire for morally unambiguous judgments is understandable in the face of European historical amnesia, but it falls into the hands of those who have raised this amnesia as their program.

The three HKW exhibitions in the fall of 2019 are about anticolonial thinking from German history and how even it reproduces colonial formulas. But it is also about the reversal of the gaze and gestures of reflection. Love and Ethnology. The Colonial Dialectic of Sensitivity (After Hubert Fichte) is the conclusion of a three-year project in which writer Fichte’s works were translated and formed the basis for a reassessment and critical reception in the places he describes. Afro-Sonic Mapping by artist and musician Satch Hoyt counters Fichte’s exploration of cultures of the African diaspora with contemporary research of sounds from Angola and the Congo that describes their diaspora echo and pop culture heritage as a living and resistant memory landscape. The exhibition Spectral-White: The Appearance of Colonial-Era Europeans recalls the first explicitly antiracist attempt in German ethnology to interpret portrayals of Europeans by artists of then colonized countries. What does it mean to trace these portrayals today?

Anselm Franke, Head of the Department of Visual Arts & Bernd Scherer, Director
September 2019