Category:Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Collection of Objects from Colonial Contexts in the Brücke-Museum Berlin

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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Collection of Objects from Colonial Contexts

The estate of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, owned by the Karl and Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Foundation at the Brücke Museum, contains his collection of around 100 sculptures and objects with colonial backgrounds. The Brücke artist himself never travelled outside Europe and, to the best of current knowledge, bought these objects in the art trade and from private owners from the 1910s onwards. The collection includes ritual and everyday objects, alongside souvenirs for the Western market. The way they were perceived underwent changes: they came to be seen as objects of art and decoration. Little is known of their origins, the circumstances of their acquisition, or the historical and current importance of the objects. Most of them originate from Germany`s former colonies, thus referring directly to German Expressionists’ entanglements in the often unlawful appropriation of material culture in colonially occupied lands.[1]

Project Digitisation of the Ethnographica Collection of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

In a 2021 pilot project financed by the Senate Department for Culture and Europe, the Brücke Museum is critically reappraising and digitizing this artist collection. The expertise required for this undertaking will be developed by experts originating from the same regions as the objects in question, working alongside decolonial activists.

The Brücke Museum has made a conscious decision to publish the digital representations alongside key work data on Wiki Commons. The museum expressly wants to make the data accessible, usable, and editable for anyone who is interested. The networking project will encourage interactions beyond merely making digital data available: it is designed to be process-oriented and future-oriented.

Ascertaining more information about the objects based on the work data provided in Wiki will serve as an orientation aid, helping to associate the objects with specific geographical, cultural, and historical contexts. However, compiling and recording information in this way risks reproducing colonial categories – such as ‘ethnicity’ – that were used to invent and fix identities.

In an attempt to circumvent the colonial linguistic style that anonymizes the creators of an object as nameless representatives of an ‘ethnicity,’ we have settled upon the formulation ‘once known creator.’ In doing so, we follow the model of item descriptions by First Nations peoples in Canada. Referring not only to the individual, these descriptions also highlight the pain of memories lost through the control and dominance of colonial orders of knowledge.

The project also reflects the particular challenges of future digitalizations of artistic collections. The focus will partially be on supplementing the hitherto vague knowledge of non-European objects in European art collections, while also focusing on giving due credit to non-Western forms of knowledge that may at times go beyond the structure of a wikimedia page.

The project is taking place in the context of the State of Berlin’s 2021 funding project for the digitalization of objects of cultural heritage. Project partners: Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa, Forschungs- und Kompetenzzentrum Digitalisierung Berlin (digiS).[1].

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