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TRACES. Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts

“If a museum is a place created by that appropriation of the world from Europe which we now critically engage with, then it can also be a place for unlearning this European worldview.”

Over a period of two years, the education team at Frankfurt’s Weltkulturen Museum worked together on action research with Nora Landkammer and Karin Schneider from the Institute for Art Education at the Zurich University of the Arts. The results of the research were made available in an online publication.
The main question addressed was how to deal with the colonial heritage of the museum, the institution and its educational services. Taking this as the focus, the team reflected on their own practices, experimented, changed, analysed, and experimented again. Some team members specifically considered everyday educational work, such as guided tours in exhibitions or workshops with school classes, and adapted these to address particular issues; other members developed new, experimental forms of museum education in the Weltkulturen Museum, researched these and drafted suggestions and questions for educational practices. The critical reflection was guided by the following questions:
• How can museum education dealing with contentious cultural heritage itself create spaces for conflict and negotiation processes?
• How can educators develop a pedagogical setting opening up spaces for dissensus and different positionalities, yet at the same time take up the responsibility to ensure violence and exclusion are not simply re-enacted?
• How can educators take up a clear stance, yet operate from a position of unlearning when they are themselves part of the hierarchies and power relations under debate?

For the critical investigation of the themes, one core element was the regular one to two-day workshops where various actors in educational work in critical race theory and decolonialisation were invited for inputs, advice, workshops and a walking tour in the city. In these workshop, at the same time, the research protocols and findings were jointly analysed and discussed.

In addition to the reflexive texts, the publication also includes materials for educational practice and the reflections on them integrated into the experimental work. Hence, for example, a timeline on the topic of ‘Colonialism and Germany’ was developed for the ‘What is this doing here?’ workshop where young people critically engage with questions directed to acquisition history, property and claims to cultural artefacts in museum collections. Similarly, a questionnaire was also compiled as an aid for museum educators to approach an exhibition, identify possible thematic reference points, and evolve a perspective on the exhibition for their work. In addition, the research team discussed and formulated a set of working principles. Even if these are to be regarded as somewhat visionary, they serve to set a possible horizon and provide a constantly developing basis for discussion.

Furthermore, key pedagogical, scientific and artistic positions were brought together with the existing resources for continuing training in the educational services in museums with colonial collections. These materials address educators interested in self-reflection and exploring opportunities for further development, and can provide incentives to experiment with their own practices.

The authors are educators at the Weltkulturen Museum and members of the Institute for Art Education at the Zurich University of the Arts: Julia Albrecht, Bea Barrois, Stephanie Endter, Nora Landkammer, Berit Mohr, Esther Poppe, Kristina Rüger, Karin Schneider, Nora Schön and Anton Zscherpe

With thanks to Deborah Krieg (Anne Frank Educational Centre), frankfurt postkolonial, Nadine Golly and Laura Digoh (Karfi) for sharing insights and for critical support. A big thank you also goes to the Weltkulturen Museum team for supporting this research project and the preparation of this publication.

You can find the publication here.

“The Museum as a Site of Unlearning? Materials and Reflections on Museum Education at the Weltkulturen Museum” was conducted as part of the TRACES project’s Work Package Education and Stakeholder Involvement. As a three-year project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme, TRACES investigates new ways of critically engaging with contentious cultural heritage.