Robbed Art: Where do the objects in our museums come from? | NDR.de

Status: 21.04.2022 14:44

Benin bronzes, masks, human remains: where do the objects in our museums come from? Katja Lembke, Director of the State Museum of Lower Saxony in Hanover, has been following the process closely in recent years.

Ms. Lembke, where does it actually come from, what can be seen in the state museum, for example? What do we know about the history of the things on display there? Do you ever walk around the house and wonder where this or that object actually comes from?

Katja Lembke: We need to make a very clear distinction as to which department we are in at the State Museum. As a multi-sector house, we have different fields: natural history, ethnology, archeology and art. In this regard, it always depends a lot on where you are at the moment. What is being discussed a lot at the moment is the question of where ethnographic objects come from in the non-European context. But for years we have also been affected by cultural assets confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution in the art world. So it always depends a bit.

Coincidentally, I am an archaeologist myself and when I go through the archeology exhibition, I also think about one or the other piece and how it actually ended up in the collection. Even ancient monuments often found their way into German museums 100 or 150 years ago – but we are only now beginning to understand how.

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The president of the German Association of Archaeologists, Katja Lembke, believes that ancient monuments should be returned to their original places. more

A few years ago the movie “Woman in Gold” with Helen Mirren was released. A story that shows that these families have existed, that injustice has happened and that you have to have a lot of legal stability. Are there such cases in Lower Saxony?

Lemke: Of course it is the case that we should always look in our treasures to see if things are right with us. But it must also be said that in the beginning the focus was always on the area between 1933 and 1945 and meanwhile this has expanded for us. For example, if you bought something in 1980 that was taken from a Jewish family in the 1930s or 1940s, then of course it should be checked as well. So the field is actually getting bigger. And now there is also this large area of ​​ethnographic collections, which we are taking a look at. We have a lot to do, it’s not a question.

Many museums have created their own exhibitions of items whose origins were unclear. You would be surprised how much it actually is. A normal museum visitor has no idea how much is in storage – so we have nothing to do with it. But that’s another way to deal with it, isn’t it?

Lemke: You always have to discern if we know where it comes from. As a rule, we can designate cultural and temporal objects. But the question is: who collected it? And how was it collected? In 2017 we had a big exhibition entitled “Heikles Erbe” – we were pioneers in Germany. We have analyzed many articles to see who has collected them. So we started more from collectors than from the objects themselves. Because it is extremely interesting that the same collector who later gave us the items bought something at a fair price one day, got something as a gift the next day and went on a raid and robbed something on the third day. How will you distinguish them today? Has a throne of a Cameroonian king been gifted or stolen? This too often is not clarified more clearly. And if you get something as a gift, that would be a problem too. It would be forbidden for these countries and these cultures if you just returned it. In this regard, it is really important to work together on such projects, do research together and then find a solution that we hope will be sustainable for all parties.

The interview was conducted by Ocke Bandixen.

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This topic in the program:

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