Thursday, May 17, 2018

Berlin Museum Returns Artifacts to Indigenous People of Alaska

From left, a wooden mask, painted; a wooden idol; and the fragment of a wooden mask, which were returned to a representative of the Alaskan Chugach people in Berlin on Wednesday.CreditEthnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Berlin Museum has returned nine artefacts to indigenous communities of Alaska. “The objects were taken from graves [in the 1880s] without permission of the native people, and thus unlawfully,” said Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin's publicly funded museums. “Therefore, they don’t belong in our museums,” he added In front of members of the media, Mr. Parzinger handed a fragment of a large wooden mask to John F.C. Johnson, a representative of the Alaskan Chugach people. Both men, wearing white cotton gloves, held the mask between them for photographers.(Christopher F. Schuetze Berlin Museum Returns Artifacts to Indigenous People of Alaska, New York Times, 16th May 2018)
The items, which included several masks, a wooden idol and a baby basket, had been in the collection of Berlin’s Ethnographic Museum, though they were never exhibited publicly. Between 1882 and 1884, they were taken by Johan Adrian Jacobsen, a Norwegian adventurer and amateur ethnographer acting on behalf of the museum. [...] The return of the items comes at a time when European museums are being called on to put more effort into provenance research and to return objects acquired in ways that were unethical and would now be unlawful.[...] In Germany, where most provenance research has focused on art looted during the Nazi years of the 1930s and ’40s, the subject of provenance research into objects taken during earlier times has been the matter of some controversy. Although Germany’s empire was much smaller than France’s or Britain’s, it had several African colonies and acquired many objects for its museums from these territories, as well as from other parts of the world. 
 Once the objects get back to Alaska, they will be returned to the Chugach community displayed in community centers or local museums.

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