Technische Universität Berlin

Press release| 20 July 2021 | pp

Transnational Research in Africa and Europe

Reconnecting interrupted chains of knowledge in museum collections – double exhibition planned in Dakar and Oxford – 1.5 million euros provided by the Volkswagen Foundation

The colonial history of ethnological museums in Europe and their continuing forms are currently the topic of intensive discussion. The now global debate surrounding the origins of objects in museums shows that new concepts and practices are needed, extending beyond the European notion of a museum. The “Global Challenges – Integrating Different Perspectives on Cultural Heritage and Change” joint call run by the Volkswagen Foundation, the Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy), and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Sweden)has now approved total funding of approximately 11 million euros for eight new projects. Among these is “Re-connecting 'Objects': Epistemic Plurality and Transformative Practices in and beyond Museums,”where TU art historian Professor Bénédicte Savoy will be working with partners from the UK, Senegal, Cameroon, and South Africa to develop collaborative structures and research in dialogue with African universities.

Using an international peer-review process, the successful interdisciplinary research proposals were selected to bring together the perspectives of researchers and stakeholders from a number of different countries. Each project includes at least two partners from countries in the Global South as well as one main applicant from Germany, Italy, or Sweden.

Researchers from Germany, UK, Cameroon, Senegal, and South Africa to develop digital research platforms for intercontinental collaboration

The Re-connecting Objects project with TU Berlin’s Bénédicte Savoy as main applicant will receive close to 1.5 million euros over three-and-a-half years. Leading researchers from four other countries are also involved in the project: Dr. El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, University Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, Théodore Monod Museum of African Art, Dakar, Senegal; Professor Dan Hicks, University of Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK; Professor Ciraj Rassool, University of the Western Cape, Department of History, Cape Town, South Africa; and Professor Albert Gouaffo, University of Dschang, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Dschang, Cameroon.

“We wish to investigate the presence and absence of African material cultural heritage in those locations where it is missing today and where it has been collected in European museums. We are concerned here with knowledge that museums have either neglected or rendered impossible. We are looking for new forms of custody in museum practice, as well as for object-handling and display in African and European museums,” explains Savoy, who has dedicated many years to provenance research and is one of the leading experts within the restitution debate in Germany and Europe.

Reflecting the European order of knowledge – Double exhibition at the Dak’art Biennale 2024

The international research team will be working in close collaboration with artists, museum professionals, students, and various stakeholders in Europe and Africa. Postdoctoral researchers at the five participating institutions will conduct individual research projects, while also contributing to an overarching common endeavor: the creation of two complementary, site-specific research exhibitions held simultaneously in Oxford and Dakar during the 2024 Dak’art Biennale. 

“The double exhibition will examine themes such as the recontextualization of objects, and its goals include questioning the Eurocentric order of knowledge,” says Bénédicte Savoy. All elements of the project will be coordinated with each other and seek to open up the sedimented meaning of objects, something which can often only be discovered beyond their presentations in museums.

A team of graphic designers and developers will create a digital intercontinental research platform to facilitate sustainable, long-distance collaboration between researchers. The project will also make use of existing networks of academics and cultural workers and further seeks to actively involve students and concerned audiences, thus also incorporating epistemic plurality from beyond academia.


Prof. Dr.

Bénédicte Savoy

Chair for Modern Art History

+49 30 314-25014