Engaging in exchange

Shaping the future with museums

TheMuseumsLab brings experts from Africa and Europe together to engage in exchange on urgent issues.

Issue 1 | 2022

Text: Miriam Hoffmeyer

How can museums develop viable concepts for the future, and how can they actively help shape the transformation of their societies? These are the questions addressed by TheMuseumsLab, a platform for joint learning and knowledge sharing that has been bringing experts from Africa and Europe together since 2021. “What is exciting is the diversity of perspectives”, says the programme’s coordinator, Meryem Korun from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. Each year, around 50 experts in total from ­Africa and Europe take part; they are involved in exhibition work, research or the administration of the various museums, galleries and cultural heritage sites. “For museums in Europe that are critically engaging with their colonial legacy, provenance research is often the central focus. In Africa, on the other hand, discussions also explore what the absence of these objects means for their societies.” The exchange confirms how important it is to involve the African side in discussions about the return of cultural assets from the outset.

TheMuseumsLab’s workshop and continuing education programme combines digital learning with face-to-face phases in Berlin and Cape Town, as well as a two-week residency at a European museum. “I found it fascinating to engage with the cultural heritage of another continent, to experience another culture at first hand”, recounts Njeri Gachihi. A research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya, she took part in TheMuseumsLab last year. Gachihi is a medical anthropologist specialised in indigen­ous knowledge and is currently studying questions of restitution. “For me, TheMuseumsLab was also an opportunity to meet museum and cultural heritage experts with similar interests and to expand my network”, she says. These contacts also helped her ­create a database of specialists in African cultural heritage who are interested in restitution issues.

TheMuseumsLab was developed by the DAAD, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the master’s programme in museum management and communication at the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Berlin, in close cooperation with the African consult­ancy group The Advisors. Several African and European museums and cultural institutions are partners with the programme, which is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office. Meryem Korun is convinced that the exchange will continue to bear fruit: “After the first year, there are already lots of ideas for follow-up projects such as workshops, conferences and joint exhibitions.” —