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13-15 June, Nomadic Camera. Photography, Displacement and Dis:connectivities

Processes of migration and flight after 2015 and their depiction, perception and distribution through photography are the starting point of ‘Nomadic Camera’. We seek to investigate the relationship of photography and contemporary migration in technology, the media and aesthetics in addition to historical exile and flight as the pivotal discursive setting in which specific forms of mobility extending from the mid-19th century to today have been negotiated. The concept adapts the term ‘nomadic’ — a transitory form of existence — beyond static concepts of being and national boundaries (Demos 2017). ‘Nomadism’ refers to a form of mobility that converges with and diverges from other terms, such as ‘travel’, ‘displacement’ and ‘exile’ (Kaplan 1996). At the same time, displacements are intrinsically related to connective and disconnective experiences, including place-making and belonging, ruptures between life and work in the past and present, experiences of loss and challenges of beginnings. ‘Nomadic Camera’ will centre around the following questions: how do dislocations interconnect with the technical evolution of photography as a mobile medium? How do camera technologies presuppose and affect the visual formulation of exile, migration and flight experiences? What modifications in aesthetics and style, methods and practices of photography do temporary mobility, geographical relocation and resettlement imply?  
Organisers: Burcu Dogramaci (Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, LMU Munich), Winfried Gerling (European Media Studies – University of Applied Sciences Potsdam/University Potsdam and Brandenburg Centre for Media Studies (ZeM), Potsdam), Jens Jäger (University of Cologne) and Birgit Mersmann (University of Bonn)  
Venues
13 June 2023 gd:c annual lecture / Keynote ‘Nomadic Camera’: Historisches Kolleg Kaulbachstraße 15 80539 Munich
14/15 June 2023 Workshop ‘Nomadic Camera’: Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect Maria-Theresia-Str. 21 81675 Munich
14 June 2023 Film screening Fati’s Choice: Arena Filmtheater Hans-Sachs-Str. 7 80469 Munich   Please register by 4 June HERE.  
Click HERE to download the programme.   Continue Reading

Yvonne Hackenbroch’s birdcage: the experience of Jewish exile and the return as object

änne söll
 

Fig 1: Yvonne Hackenbroch with family dog 'Racker', Frankfurt on the Main, c. 1935/36 (from: Jörg Rasmussen: Festschrift: Studien zum europäischen Kunsthandwerk, München 1983, cover).

Two years after receiving her doctorate from the University of Munich in 1936, the Jewish art historian Yvonne Hackenbroch (1912 – 2012) was compelled to leave Germany and emigrate to London in 1938, where her older sister and mother were already residing. Yvonne Hackenbroch’s father, a prominent and prosperous art and antiques dealer, had passed away the year before. This photo portrait shows Hackenbroch with the family dog ‘Racker’ (Rascal) in her native city, Frankfurt am Main, near her parents’ house in 34 Untermainkai. It is from this house, Yvonne Hackenbroch’s childhood home in Frankfurt, that the birdcage in question originates.

Fig. 2: Birdcage, 1757, 26.3 x 35.5 x 21.2 cm, carved, partly coloured and gilded oak and coniferous wood, metal wire covering, tray, Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main, donated by Yvonne Hackenbroch 2012 (© Horst Ziegenfusz).

Hackenbroch took the cage with her to London. In fact, it accompanied her throughout her exile spanning decades. The two went first to Toronto, where she worked from around 1945 until 1949 as a curator for the Fareham Collection at the University of Toronto, then to New York, where she curated the Irwin Untermeyer Collection, even moving with the collection when it was relocated to the Metropolitan Museum. When she returned to London after her retirement in 1982, the birdcage was again among her belongings and remained in her apartment near Hyde Park until her death in 2012. At her behest, the wooden cage was then donated to the Historical Museum in Frankfurt as a ‘token of reconciliation[1]’ by her great-nephew Adam Hills. The cage is thus both a gift and a legacy. In its current presentation at the museum, as will become clear, it is as much a gesture of reconciliation as it is an object of admonition. The birdcage as museum object also produces a contradiction: it is simultaneously a symbol of incarceration as well as a reminder of Hackenbroch’s endurance and dignity in the face of persecution turning it into a truly dis:connected object. With this bequest, Hackenbroch has (re-)inscribed herself and her displaced family into the history of the city of Frankfurt and sent what initially appears to be a reconciliatory message to the post-war generation. This gift can also be seen as the symbolic ‘return’ of Hackenbroch to the city of Frankfurt, which she had visited sporadically after the war, even delivering a lecture at the Historical Museum in 1990, but from which she was to remain permanently exiled, though it was the place she first called home. Since incorporating the birdcage into its collection in 2013, the Historical Museum in Frankfurt has preserved it and, since 2017, displayed it not only in its permanent exhibit on the history of the city, specifically as part of the display on National Socialism, but also shown it online as an item in the digital collection. Within the museum, the birdcage thus leads a double life, for, as will become clear, its physical presentation in the collection and its presentation on the museum's online platform are significantly different.

Bird/human/enlightenment: history, function and the symbolism of the cage

The birdcage presumably dates from 1757, as the year is emblazoned – prominently – along with Frankfurt's eagle emblem on its front. Why the year 1757 was so conspicuously positioned on the front of the cage, however, remains a mystery.[2] 1757 is not connected with any significant event in Frankfurt’s history. Was the year an important turning point in the life of the person or family who owned it? A marriage or a birth perhaps? Or maybe it had not belonged to a family at all, and 1757 marks the founding of a bird breeders’ association? Was the date inscribed on the cage retroactively, or does it denote the year of its manufacture? It is also impossible to determine whether the cage is a family heirloom that had belonged to the Hackenbroch family since the 18th century. After all, her mother’s side had resided in Frankfurt from the late Middle Ages. Might the cage not have come from Zaccharias Hackenbroch’s antique business after all? In short, there is no reliable information about the first 250 years of the birdcage’s ‘biography’. What is certain, however, is that the birdcage with its eagle, the emblem of the city of Frankfurt, reminded Yvonne Hackenbroch of her origins and that she valued the object immensely for that reason.[3] Thus, following Tilmann Habermas, the birdcage’s function for Hackenbroch was to integrate and symbolise her life story in exile.[4] In this way, the cage can also be called a Verlustsouvenir,[5] ‘a souvenir of loss’ that reminded Hackenbroch of the hometown that she had to leave behind and of her father, who most likely acquired it. In addition to the imposing eagle on the outside, the cage also contained a bird: when it was delivered to the museum, there was a small wooden bird inside. It is not a mechanical songbird in a cage of the kind that was popular in the salons of the early 18th century, but a simple, modern wooden toy, likely manufactured in the 20th century. Its greenish-yellow colouring resembles a canary. It is, therefore, a ‘modern’ inhabitant of an ‘old’, richly decorated and stately birdcage. In addition to its two bays, where the food dish and water bowl can be placed, the cage is made of partially gilded oak, softwood and iron rods.[6] Measuring 26cm x 25cm x 21 cm, the cage is quite small and was most likely intended for a delicate, domestic songbird or canary. Canaries had been bred in Tyrol as early as the 18th century and sold in large European cities by traders organised in guilds.[7] Birdcages of the 18th and 19th centuries featured a variety of designs from simple wood and wire models to elaborate, ornate versions made with costly materials.[8] This range indicates that bird keeping was a common activity across (almost) all social classes. Small pets, such as dogs and squirrels and birds, grew increasingly popular in the 18th century as ‘luxury objects of the “better circles” and social climbers’.[9] Birds were thus ‘the means and locus of social distinction and the representation of power’.[10] They were relevant to the starkly segregated social classes for different reasons. The nobility kept birds for reasons of status, including falconry birds and expensive birds imported from overseas. Learned, bourgeois circles — largely men — were interested in birds as objects of study. Bourgeois women, on the other hand, kept birds as companions and amusements, sometimes training them.[11] In the course of the 18th century, according to Julia Breittruck, there was a ‘”bourgeoisification” of the bird. Songbirds were no longer just a noble, elite accessory, but became a bourgeois cultural asset.’[12] Especially in genre paintings of the 18th century, birds are more frequently depicted as the domesticated pets of bourgeois ladies. For example, in this painting by Jean Simeon Chardin, a lady plays a melody to her canary on a serinette — a small organ made especially for this purpose.

Fig. 3a Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin: La Serinette, also called Lady varying her amusements, 1751, 50 x 43 cm, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris (© 2010 RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / René-Gabriel Ojéda).

Fig. 3b: Jean-François Colson: Portrait of the chemist Balthazar Sage, 1777, 100,5 x 81 cm, oil on canvas, Musée des beaux-arts, Dijon (© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon/ François Jay, from: Julia Breittruck, Ein Flügelschlag in der Pariser Aufklärung, Zur Geschichte der Beziehungen zwischen Menschen und ihren Vögeln, Dortmund 2020, 64).

According to Julia Breittruck, the motif of the bourgeois lady with a bird she has trained was very popular in the mid-18th century. Breittruck sees this as enjoining bourgeois women to engage in the rearing not only of birds but also, of course, of their own children. In contrast to the aristocracy, bourgeois women were encouraged to see child-rearing as their intrinsically ‘female’ duty. The preoccupation with parlour birds was thus gender coded. While women were expected to educate, men were assigned the role of scientist, and their attention to birds became part of an experiment. Pet birds also developed into objects of bourgeois entertainment for ‘convivial circles’ and in salons over the course of the 18th century. They became domestic companions, kept in the private rooms reserved for family and close friends.[13] Consequently, ‘domesticated birds became more and more the private leisure companions of their respective owners, even co-constituents of the kind and manner of private leisure’.[14] In paintings and prints, the bird functions, according to Julia Breittruck, ‘as the imagined and real double, the eyes and ears of its owner’. Hackenbroch's birdcage, then, transports us to a time when songbirds had become a leisure activity of the middle classes and the object of scientific investigation and educational ambitions. So how did these factors impact museum’s presentation of its newly acquired object?

Semiophores: the twofold contextualisation of the birdcage in the museum

One of the fundamental tenets of museology is that objects stored or displayed in museums trade their original meaning and use value for a new one. They become what are known as ‘semiophores’,[15] a term coined by the Polish historian Krysztof Pomian to describe objects whose purpose, meaning or value is transformed with their relocation to the museum. In this vein, Hackenbroch’s birdcage loses its function as an 18th-century animal enclosure and the historical connotations discussed above. As a sort of ‘prison’, the old birdcage in the new context of the Historical Museum may allude to forced emigration and the ambiguous ‘freedom’ of exile. If we then see the wooden bird in the cage as representing the cage’s owner (and her persecuted family), we soon grasp the birdcage as a visual metaphor for the persecution of Jews in the Third Reich.

Fig. 4: Birdcage as shown within the Historische Museum Frankfurt's permanent collection (© 2022 the author).

Hackenbroch's cage, however, is not displayed in isolation but gains a special inflection from the objects around it, evoking a host of significations from which the historical background of 18th century fades entirely. Standing in the Historical Museum before the display case containing the birdcage, which forms part of the exhibit on National Socialism in Frankfurt,[16] the visitor sees diagonally below it a broken Biedermeier chair. The chair likely originates from the Museum of Jewish Antiquities that opened in 1922 in the former house of the Rothschild banking family in Frankfurt, which was looted and destroyed in 1938.[17] To the left of the cage is a can of Zyklon B, the poison manufactured in Frankfurt and used for mass murder in concentration camps. Walking around this ‘island’ of glass display cases, the visitor sees behind the bird cage objects ranging from a silver swastika once used as a Christmas tree ornament in a Frankfurt household to silver teapots and cutlery that once belonged to Frankfurt Jews that were confiscated and forcibly sold by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 40s. In this arrangement, where the tools of destruction clash with bourgeois Jewish urban and commemorative culture – a composition designed deliberately by the museum’s curators to create contradictions and startling object constellations – the dainty birdcage with its Frankfurt eagle naturally signifies the annihilated Jewish urban culture of Frankfurt. That Hackenbroch took this cage into exile and donated it to the museum posthumously as a gesture of reconciliation is only revealed through the inscription on the display case. In light of the juxtapositions, the repatriation of the birdcage and the concomitant reconciliation recedes into the background. Nevertheless, the cage as gift also signals an intrinsic dialectic. After all, the cage as ‘prison’ refers to internment, execution and, with respect to exile, the forced escape from persecution, internment and death. The cage is thus not only a gesture of reconciliation and a symbolic return, but also an object of admonition.

Fig 5: Birdcage as shown on the Historische Museum Frankfurt's website, Screenshot (https://historisches-museum-frankfurt.de/de/node/34467?language=de, 07.02.2023).

While the birdcage in the museum is presented in the context of the threat to and annihilation of Jewish culture in Frankfurt, assuming various, sometimes contradictory levels of meaning, the website depicts it as an isolated object. It is displayed there with an inventory number, object data and the text of the panel on the display case, which informs visitors about the donor, her history of exile and her gift as a sign of reconciliation. The question, then, is which presentation better does justice to the object, its only partially reconstructable history and to the exile of its previous owner? Having first become acquainted with the birdcage virtually due to the pandemic, and only later being able to view it physically exhibited, I was initially surprised by the museum's perceptual arrangement (Wahrnehmungsordnung).[18] The juxtaposition of the birdcage with the objects described above disturbed me, as I had not expected to see it next to a can of Zyklon B. In the words of Gottfried Korff, the placement of the birdcage in the museum put me, the visitor, ‘in a state of heightened, imagination-enhancing self-awareness’.[19] The objects are arranged to place the birdcage visually and conceptually in the context of National Socialism and its extermination machine, subordinated or eliminating other associations. According to Korff, ‘the subject [through museum arrangements, in the best case] should be freed of pragmatic references and become porous in the “performative” process of perception’.[20] Korff is highlighting the fact that visitors can become more receptive, permeable, ‘porous’ to historical, social and emotional entanglements through such provocative arrangements. In the case of the birdcage, however, it also means that we are not only reminded of the object's connections to the period of National Socialism in Frankfurt, but are also reminded of the ruptures, detours, stations of exile — the dis:connections — contained in the fragmentary history of the birdcage. Thus, the birdcage does not function exclusively as a symbol or memento. As a multi-dimensional object, it resists clear-cut interpretation and integration into discourses of exile or National Socialism. This is complicated further by the fact that, as Doerte Bischoff and Joachim Schlör argue, objects of exile retain a ‘minimal power […] to preserve human dignity’.[21] The birdcage as a symbol of incarceration (and therefore inhumanity) on the one hand and as the symbol of Hackenbroch’s endurance and dignity on the other combines in itself contradictions that cannot be easily resolved, transforming the birdcage into a truly dis:connected object.

Dis:connectivities in the museum: exile, return, reconciliation?

As Burcu Dogramaci and her colleagues aptly describe in their preface to an edition of the Jahrbuch Exilforschung devoted to archives and museums of exile, the ‘placement of such materials in archives and museums [confronts us] with a tension between a delimiting situatedness, on the one hand, and a portability and boundarylessness to which they themselves bear witness’.[22] With respect to Yvonne Hackenbroch's birdcage, this tension arises not only from the object’s placement in the museum, but from the cage itself, which, as a movable thing, paradoxically exists to restrict the bird's freedom of movement. The birdcage embodies the indissoluble dialectic of exile as ‘liberation’ from persecution, on the one hand, and captivity in a foreign land on the other. It symbolises an intermediate state best described by Rafael Cardoso: ‘Exile, in the broad sense of the term, is a condition. One that involves simultaneous absence and presence […]. There is a liminality to this condition, an essential in-betweenness, that precludes ever arriving at anything so clear cut and unambiguous as freedom of the past.’[23]The return of the birdcage to the Historical Museum in Frankfurt is not an unequivocal gesture of reconciliation. Instead, the birdcage carries Hackenbroch’s exile experience within it and affects us, as Arjun Appadurai argues, through ‘the force of [its] histories, journeys, accidents and adventures’.[24] Hackenbroch's birdcage, then, is an ambivalent signifier of forced emigration and ‘dislocation’ that challenges us to see the experience of exile as a ‘cage perspective’ rooted in violent displacement from which there can be no liberation, not even for those standing outside the cage.   [1]  ‘ Zeichen der Versöhnung’ as worded in the object description of the museum: https://historisches-museum-frankfurt.de/de/node/34467, last accessed on 3 February. 2023, and: Jan Gerchow and Nina Gorgius, eds., 100 * Frankfurt: Geschichten aus (mehr als) 1000 Jahren (Frankfurt: Societäts Verlag, 2017), 274–75. [2] Neither the Hackenbroch family nor the museum curators were able to provide any information in this regard. [3] Adam Hills, Email to author, 21 February 2022. [4] Tilman Habermas, Geliebte Objekte. Symbole und Instrumente der Identitätsbildung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996), 281. [5] Habermas, 278. [6] Julia Breittruck, Ein Flügelschlag in der Pariser Aufklärung: Zur Geschichte der Beziehungen zwischen Menschen und ihren Vögeln (Munich: University Library LMU, 2021). [7] Breittruck, 3–39. [8] This is based on research in the image library of the European Cultural Heritage Database, which I cannot discuss here due to space limitations: https://www.europeana.eu/de, Access date missing [9] Breittruck, Ein Flügelschlag in der Pariser Aufklärung: Zur Geschichte der Beziehungen zwischen Menschen und ihren Vögeln, 40. [10] Breittruck, 53–54. [11] Breittruck, 40 et seq. [12] Breittruck, 41. [13] Breittruck, 83. [14] Breittruck, 87. [15] Krzysztof Pomian, Der Ursprung des Museums: Vom Sammeln (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1988). [16] My visit to the Historical Museum in Frankfurt took place in May 2022. I thank the curators Nina Gorgus and Anne Gemeinhardt for their help and cooperation in my research. [17] Gerchow and Gorgius, 100 * Frankfurt: Geschichten aus (mehr als) 1000 Jahren, 277–79, on the Can of Zyklon B, 291– 93. [18] Gottfried Korff, ed., ‘Speichern und/oder Generator: Zum Verhältnis von Deponieren und Exponieren im Museum’, in Museumsdinge, deponieren/exponieren, 2nd ed. (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2007), 172. [19] Korff, 173. [20] Korff, 172. [21] Doerte Bischoff and Joachim Schlör, ‘Dinge des Exils. Zur Einleitung’, in Dinge des Exils, Jahrbuch Exilforschung 31, 9-22. (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2013), 18. [22] Sylvia Asmus, Doerte Bischoff, and Burcu Dogramaci, eds., Archive und Museen des Exils, Jahrbuch Exilforschung 37 (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2018), 2. [23] Rafael Cardoso, ‘The living archive: On Hugo Simon’s posthumous return to Germany’, in Archive und Museen des Exils, Jahrbuch Exilforschung 37 (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2019), 106. [24] Arjun Appadurai, ‘Museum Objects as Accidental Refugees’, Historische Anthropologie 25, no. 3 (November 2017): 406.
Bibliography
Appadurai, Arjun. ‘Museum Objects as Accidental Refugees’. Historische Anthropologie 25, no. 3 (November 2017): 401–8. Asmus, Sylvia, Doerte Bischoff, and Burcu Dogramaci, eds. Archive und Museen des Exils. Jahrbuch Exilforschung 37. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Bischoff, Doerte, and Joachim Schlör. ‘Dinge des Exils. Zur Einleitung’. In Dinge des Exils, Jahrbuch Exilforschung 31, 9-22. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2013. Breittruck, Julia. Ein Flügelschlag in der Pariser Aufklärung: Zur Geschichte der Beziehungen zwischen Menschen und ihren Vögeln. Munich: University Library LMU, 2021. Cardoso, Rafael. ‘The living archive: On Hugo Simon’s posthumous return to Germany’. In Archive und Museen des Exils, Jahrbuch Exilforschung 37, 96–107. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Gerchow, Jan, and Nina Gorgius, eds. 100 * Frankfurt: Geschichten aus (mehr als) 1000 Jahren. Frankfurt: Societäts Verlag, 2017. Habermas, Tilman. Geliebte Objekte. Symbole und Instrumente der Identitätsbildung. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996. Korff, Gottfried, ed. ‘Speichern und/oder Generator: Zum Verhältnis von Deponieren und Exponieren im Museum’. In Museumsdinge, deponieren/exponieren, 2nd ed. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2007. Pomian, Krzysztof. Der Ursprung des Museums: Vom Sammeln. Berlin: Wagenbach, 1988. Continue Reading

Hanna Charag-Zuntz’s Levantine ceramics: dis:connecting objects through narratives

hanni geiger
[Editor's note: The adjective 'Islamic' was changed to 'Arab' for greater accuracy in a single instance on 11 September 2023.]
The ceramic works of Hanna Charag-Zuntz (1915—2007) in exhibitions throughout the world cannot be read in isolation from the nationally framed history of Israeli ceramics. The exhibition catalogues all address the creative and social connections between East and West in very different ways. Some exhibitions link the artist’s vases, pots and bottles to the themes of exile and imported European modernism as an influence on Israeli ceramics since the state was founded in 1948. This contrasts with exhibitions that link the objects as representatives of a new Jewish pottery (and identity) with archaeological finds in the Middle East and to the state’s demand for cultural assimilation and national stability. In the postmodern-oriented exhibitions, the works are presented as transcultural objects that distance themselves from the early Zionist premises of social unification, but the exhibitions’ frames hardly allow for any deviation. As different as the programmes might appear, exhibitions framed or funded by national and/or religious institutions tend to conflate Orient and Occident. Favouring a state identity based on connection, these exhibitions and their catalogues fail to problematise the complex, politically charged entanglements of East and West. By analysing three exhibitions and their catalogues with a local approach focused on the Levant, I decouple Charag-Zuntz’s ceramics, mainly created in the 1950s—70s, from national narrative patterns of abbreviated connections between East and West.[1] Drawing on Levantine cultural philosophy — a social concept linked to the Eastern Mediterranean — my aim is to reveal the artistic and social interruptions and absences that are usually blurred in nation-based frames. I work with the concept of dis:connectivity, which emphasises the simultaneity and dynamic co-constitution of integrative and disintegrative elements in globalisation processes, which only become relevant in relation to each other.[2] I argue that the vessels, which were made on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, should be interpreted relative to a dis:connective body of water and its local cultures. This means reading the objects in connection to a Levantine Mediterranean — a reading that contradicts geopolitical narratives as presented in the catalogues and as known from theories of the Mediterranean.[3] Although these theories survey many definitions of this sea and recognise the significance of regional cultures and fragmentations, they all emphasise connectivity, which — whether conceived nationally or otherwise — ultimately produces a certain degree of temporal and spatial stability as well as homogeneity.[4] What remains absent in such representations is the predominantly North-Western perspective on the narrated Mediterranean and the structurally conditioned, asymmetrical relationship between the narrow ideas of the sea and its creators. Recontextualising these objects in terms of a ‘Levantine Sea’, which appears unifying and stable only in terms of its physical characteristics and is in fact socially marked by ambivalent connections that coincide with migration, unbounded and fluid identities, constant change and subversion,[5] would mean recognising these characteristics as intrinsic to Charag-Zuntz’s work. Relating the forms, colours, materials and techniques of her pieces to Mediterranean dis:connectivities could reveal past and present hegemonic structures that feign connectivity. In order to disrupt the nationally constructed narratives, it is necessary to allow for other perspectives and agencies. I analyse the formal properties of the ceramics through a contemporary Mediterranean lens and reveal what these objects communicate when read as creations not only of the artist, but also of the sea and its coast. Doing so yields insights as to what objects connected to a specific locality but that elude anti-territoriality can tell us about design and ultimately about society. It uncovers how objects that are materially and narratively immobilised in exhibitions but that are in a constant state of cultural performativity tell stories about heterogeneity and entanglements as well as discrimination and exclusion. It describes how the Mediterranean relates to the global North and West or Europe. And it demonstrates how dis:connective objects help to reframe the sea and contribute to thinking globalisation from the eastern and southern Mediterranean.
On becoming one: harmonising East-West disconnections
A photo from the online exhibition Ton in Ton. Jüdische Keramikerinnen aus Deutschland nach 1933 at the Jewish Museum Berlin in 2013 shows the young Charag-Zuntz in Siegfried Möller’s studio (fig. 01), where she apprenticed in pottery, before she fled to Palestine in 1940.[6] At the wheel, she is shaping an object with a narrow base and voluminous belly that tapers toward the opening. In its simplicity and progressiveness, the piece can be associated with the Bauhaus, to which Charag-Zuntz was indirectly exposed.[7]

Fig. 01: Hanna Charag-Zuntz, Stuttgart, 1936, family collection Hanna Charag-Zuntz (from: Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Ton in Ton. Jüdische Keramikerinnen aus Deutschland nach 1933, online exhibition, 2013, https://artsandculture.google.com/story/IQVBfUHgPN-sLA?hl=de).

The influence of exile, the design teachings from Germany and their imputed superiority over Middle Eastern material, techniques, forms and designs are evident in the text accompanying the exhibition.[8] In it, Michal Friedlander describes the confluence of the East and West in the foundation of Jewish craft, but at the same time allows for criticism of the inhospitable geographic environment and the limitations of indigenous Arab pottery. Although following a long tradition, and though early Israeli ceramic production also draws on the knowledge of Arab potters and collaboration with them, the text depicts ‘underdeveloped Palestine’, with its aridity and heat that prohibited Western glazes, tints and kilns, as an impediment to the establishment of serious ceramic art in Israel. Nevertheless, according to Friedlander, Charag-Zuntz succeeds in fusing European purism with Middle Eastern experiments with clay, resulting in a seemingly universal aesthetic. This creative connection of purportedly universal validity can be read as a reference to the social unity and stability to which the newly founded nation of Israel aspired. In fact, though, it was caught between cultures. This exhibition, like numerous others, effaces the tensions that attended the simultaneous selection and rejection of West and East in society and the arts. The exhibition Forms from Israel, sponsored by the Government of Israel in cooperation with the America-Israel Cultural Foundation & Crafts From Israel, and shown at the New York Museum of Contemporary Crafts, chose a different context for Charag- Zuntz’s objects as mediators among the cultures of Israel exactly a decade after its founding in 1948.[9] Under the heading Continuities, her works are flanked on the following page of the accompanying catalogue by a basalt bowl from the biblical site of Beersheba dating to 4000 BCE (fig. 02a + 02b).[10]

Fig. 02a: Hanna Charag-Zuntz, various ceramic vessels, undated.

 

Fig. 02b: Basalt bowl, Bersheeba, 4000 BCE
(© American Federation of Arts /
Courtesy American Craft Council
Library & Archives).

Despite a certain formal resemblance between the longer vessel shown here and the early pieces she had created in Germany (see fig. 01), the narratives about her objects in this exhibition, which celebrates the formation of Israeli identity, focus less on European modernity than on the archetypes of the territorially delimited landscape of the Middle East. The juxtaposition of contemporary Israeli handicrafts and purportedly Jewish-Canaanite archaeological finds in the catalogue is intended to emphasise the continuity of biblical Palestine and to restore its authenticity, which had been thought lost.[11] Additionally, the ‘renascence of a Hebrew civilisation’ is linguistically affirmed by employing the words ‘convergence’, ‘mixing’ and the ‘melting pot’ of carefully selected cultural elements.[12] This hybridisation of particular set pieces — traditional and contemporary — is noticeable in the juxtaposition of Turkish coffee sets, Arab drums, poster design and modern wooden toys. Charag-Zuntz’s work here is marshalled to reinforce a national ceramic tradition based in multicultural assimilation of excavated finds as markers of genuine Jewish culture and diverse immigrant cultures into the Middle Eastern landscape. What remains invisible, however, is a fusion restricted to selected art pieces, styles, elements and cultural groups.[13] As Rachel S. Harris argues, connecting with the new landscape economically and physically meant simultaneously remaining intellectually and socially distinct from the Middle Eastern ‘Other’. The catalogue erases the exclusion of any unreformed groups, namely Muslim communities, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, that blurred identities and disrupted hybridisation. My next example is the 2018 exhibition in San Diego, entitled Israel. 70 Years of Craft and Design, that reckoned with the Zionists’ previously lauded notions of hybridisation. According to the catalogue’s authors: ‘[…] it did not result in forming the collective unified identity of the “New Jew” dreamt of by Israel’s first leaders. Instead the Israeli melting pot sizzled with a vast array of ideologies, vigorously contradicting and swiftly replacing one another but never cohering into one entity’.[14] The exhibition was a collaboration between the House of Israel, which professes emphatically to be ‘non-profit’, ‘non-political’ and ‘non-sectarian’ at the beginning of the catalogue, and the Mingei international Museum, whose programme is dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of arts of daily life ‘from all eras and cultures of the world’.[15] Although the catalogue distances itself from Israel’s early policy of unification, the exhibition recalls Form from Israel. It includes a selection of diverse objects from different times and cultures that have shaped Israel. Traditional Bedouin textiles and Yemeni jewellery were shown alongside contemporary industrial products, furniture and ceramics, notably Charag-Zuntz’s.[16] In contrast to what the museum claims on its webpage, the objects do not ‘[…] speak for themselves — in line, form, and color — the universal language of art’.[17] Instead, they are contextualised by Smadar Samson’s introduction, who relates the multidisciplinarity and stylistic heterogeneity of the vessels to a pluralistic Israel, open to differences and deviations. But, by emphasising the connection of diverse creative set pieces within one object — without referring to social gaps, segregation and isolation — the objects are once again truncated as symbols of cultural reconciliation,[18] at which point we must return to the exhibition’s title. The artefacts are employed to commemorate the founding of a state that geopolitically subsumes its cultures, religions and languages under an all-encompassing category. The curators’ critique of Israel’s unity policy and the museum’s pacifist programme thus seem committed to an imaginary postmodern dissolution of artistic and social classifications that never manifests in (national) reality.
Levantine disruptions or detours to connection
The émigré and philosopher Vilém Flusser observed that ‘visual languages’ ‘[…] run across the boundaries of national languages […]’.[19] So what do Charag-Zuntz’s ceramics reveal when decoupled from geopolitical narratives? What happens when we focus instead on their formal properties from a local perspective that would, unlike previous exhibitions, view the Mediterranean as the objects’ co-designer? Upon moving to Haifa in 1943, Charag-Zuntz specialised in Terra Sigillata, an ancient Mediterranean technique.[20] In this process, the pieces are fired at high temperatures and usually obtain a shimmering red surface without glazing. This technique was practiced throughout the Mediterranean 2500 years ago and suggests that people and their products were moving across historical and political boundaries.[21] Nationally framed exhibitions mention Terra Sigillata in Charag- Zuntz’s work as one of her many design tools. These exhibitions invoke this technique to symbolise Israel’s unitary ideal of interconnected cultures. In the context of the philosophy of Levantinism, however, the objects’ core message changes. ‘Levantine’ stands for a diverse society of immigrants from different places in the Mediterranean, including descendants of Genoese and Venetian merchants and of Jews who fled to the Ottoman Empire from Spain since antiquity.[22] They are migrants, refugees and dissidents who mixed with other minorities in the coastal countries of the eastern Mediterranean: Christian Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Jews. Marked by their place of arrival rather than their origins, even Jewish immigrants from North Africa and Arabic groups were called Levantines. They were branded as non-conformist, partly Eastern in the West and partly European in the East, subject neither to the colonial dictum of imitating the West nor to the later Israeli orientation towards Europe.[23] This diverse group of people were perceived as a threat to national identity and security, presumably because they were ‘not all of a piece’ and refusing to be ‘contained’ in geopolitical categories.[24] In their territorially and culturally indeterminate existence on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, as ‘cross-breeds’ despised by Israel’s early assimilating forces,[25] they de-stabilised territories and interrupted political narratives of connection. Prompted by the politically negated diaspora and the collective memory of Jews of European and Arab origins in the 1950s and 60s, Jaqueline Kahanoff dared to revitalise Levantinism as a social option for the young state.[26] In a 1959 article entitled Israel: Ambivalent Levantine, she called for a transcultural society that would include Arab and other minorities on an equal footing.[27] She referred to the absence of all the rejected, discriminated and geographically and socially excluded groups in slums, refugee camps of the Occupied Territories and marginal development town,[28] especially those marked by centuries of migration along the eastern Mediterranean coastline, which actually means half the population of Israel.[29] Linking Charag-Zuntz’s objects to the contested waters off Israel’s coast exposes ambiguities and tensions that are constitutive of social entanglements. It reveals constant change, disturbing expectations of rootedness that coincide with residence and indicating the simultaneous identification with and disavowal of both East and West. In short, it subverts spaces and disrupts singularities.[30] Also, the vessels narrated through this Mediterranean-Levantine lens disclose absences caused by the (neo-)colonial and imperialist programme of connections limited to selected decorative facets[31] of the Middle East that become equally evident in most exhibitions of Charag-Zuntz’s pieces. The narratively excluded elements of the cultural ‘Other’ remain invisible. Therefore, the works’ interruptions and absences in form and content demand interrogation. This becomes evident not only in Charag-Zuntz’s use of Terra Sigillata, which is a politically discarded symbol of cultural non-fixation and ambivalence in the eastern Mediterranean, but also through the ceramic’s shadings (fig. 03). Apart from the numerous reddish, yellow and brown objects, such as those in Forms from Israel, she also uses turquoise, blue and green nuances, which the exhibitions omit and fail to associate with the Oriental and Mediterranean ceramics known for these hues.[32]

Fig. 03: Hanna Charag-Zuntz, various ceramic vessels, late 1960s and 1970—’76s, image: Shay Ben Efraim (© The Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Centre / © Shay Ben Efraim).

The absence of the ‘Other’ in design also becomes apparent in the objects’ material. Charag-Zuntz finds sand and brine for the firing process off the ‘impure’ coast of Israel and clay in the formerly Arab Negev Desert, since absorbed into Israel.[33] This becomes relevant considering that the ascendence of Israeli ceramics and their national promotion to the status of art rests on the allegorical creation of ‘Adam’ and ‘Adamah’, referring to Israeli society, which actually arose from local — most recently Muslim — earths.[34] The catalogues’ description of the vessels as predominantly ‘calm’, ‘clear’, ‘simple’, ‘balanced’ and ‘unifying’ is also disputable.[35] In contrast to the exhibitions, one could equally focus on the tension between the pots’ protruding bellies and narrow openings, which interrupts Israeli rhetoric of cultural harmonisation. The objects’ doubtful functionality, which is a product of this formal disparity, further reinforces the impression of disruption: as in design, so in society. The references some exhibitions make to ostensibly Jewish archaeological finds can also be disrupted. Round artefacts with shapes that merge almost seamlessly into the opening and elongated forms that expand in the middle are also found among Levantine cultures from Cyprus and Muslims from Syria and Palestine (fig. 04a + 04b).[36] Moreover, the horizontal lines are also a common design element in ancient Levantine ceramics.[37] Charag-Zuntz’s brushstrokes, interpreted as Japanese in some exhibitions,[38] exemplify such Levantine characteristics.

Fig. 04a:
Jar with geometric designs, Levantine, ca. 585 BCE, h. 10,2 cm, terracotta, The William D. and Jane Welsh Collection at Fordham University, (from: Barbara Cavaliere and Jennifer Udell, eds., Ancient Mediterranean Art. The William D. and Jane Welsh Collection at Fordham
University (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 334.)

Fig. 04b
Bottle with pouring spout for water transport, mid-4th millennium BCE, Habuba Kabira, Syria, clay, pottery wheel ceramics, h. 69 cm, Prähistorische Staatssammlung, München, inv. nr. 1985, 701; (from: Gisela Zahlhaas, Prähistorische Staatssammlung. Keramiken des Vorderen Orients im internationalen Keramik-Museum Weiden, collection catalogue, Weiden, Keramik-Museum, 1990, 65.)

Thus, if we consider Charag-Zuntz’s works to be shaped by the eastern Mediterranean, a double dis:connectivity emerges. First, the detachment of the vessels from national narratives and their simultaneous coupling with a Levantine local culture is a methodological dis:connectivity, which reveals absent maritime narratives. Second, these maritime narratives frame the pieces as products of complex connections that go along with interruptions and absences. They are bound to a specific location but subvert the ideas of a settled territory and singular religions, languages and identities; they perform culture without possessing it.[39] A ‘neither—nor’ supplants and interrupts the narrow national vision of a ‘both—and’.[40] Interpreting the objects through this local cultural lens exposes the politically constructed absences that the nationally framed narratives of the exhibitions manage to circumvent. Instead of connection, harmony, and stability, analysing the works through an expanded Levantine perspective unveils past and present hegemonic mechanisms that segregate and exclude unwanted groups. The objects testify to the multidimensional interconnections in a space whose natural characteristics seem stable, all-encompassing and unifying, but whose social and political changes connote instability. These pieces echo the understanding of globalisation Deleuze and Guattari described as ‘[…] an effect of the multitudes of forces that coalesce, concatenate, and collapse at local, provisional sites.’[41] In this light, the Mediterranean and the understanding of the ceramics produced along its shores are more complicated than most theories (and exhibitions) permit. By revealing the interruptions and absences — in research and society — dis:connected objects read in contemporary Levantine terms present an alternative to the simplistic rhetoric of national connectivity. Extending the point, this new perspective and the visualisation of excluded artefact narratives and groups can even reintroduce previously erased themes and agents in art and society. For the history of art, craft and design, regionally influenced approaches can complicate object-bound narratives by generating more creative, institutional and personal participation and contribute to non-hegemonic research and theorisation. Locally framed objects represent a detour to a social and artistic presence and inclusion that national narratives only imagine. By extension, dis:connective Mediterranean artefacts could interrupt the dominant Northern and Western narratives of the Mediterranean, de-nationalising its past for its future perception.[42] New (trans-)local perspectives, images, ideas and representations would help to reconceive the global impact of the Mediterranean and the discursive absences of the manifold influences, which it has always exerted on modern Europe and its identity. [1] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘narrative’ goes back to the postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, who used it 1979 in La condition postmoderne to refer to a crisis that for him heralded an era succeeding optimistic modernity, when the meta-narratives of the Enlightenment and Idealism had become implausible. Recognising and naming a narrative as such thus means distancing oneself from it. In the social sciences of the last three decades, the term ‘narrative’ stands for ’meaningful storytelling’: as regionally, culturally or nationally related narratives that are subject to change and are imbued with legitimacy. In my investigation, I refer to both concepts and use the term critically to denote how storytelling can influence the way the environment and thus art and design are perceived. In the following, the term relates to the creation of meaning in Charag-Zuntz’s objects in the context of nationally framed exhibition catalogues on the one hand and the cultural concept of ‘Levantinism’ — a sort of counternarrative to the catalogues — on the other. See: ‘Narrativ’, Duden, 2023, https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Narrativ_Erzaehlung_Geschichte; Matthias Heine, ‘Hinz und Kunz schwafeln heutzutage vom “Narrativ”’, Die Welt, 13 November 2016, https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article159450529/Hinz-und-Kunz-schwafeln-heutzutage-vom-Narrativ.html; Wolfgang Seibel, ‘Hegemoniale Semantiken und radikale Gegennarrative. Beitrag zum Arbeitsgespräch des Kulturwissenschaftlichen Kollegs’, Uni Konstanz, 22 January 2009, https://www.exc16.uni-konstanz.de/fileadmin/all/downloads/veranstaltungen2009/Seibel-Heg-Semantiken-090122.pdf. [2] This concept was coined by the Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, see: ‘Research’, global dis:connect, 2023, https://www.org/research/disconnectivity/. [3] Among the basic theories of the Mediterranean are: Fernand Braudel, La Méditerranée et le Monde méditerranéen à l’epoque de Philippe II (Paris: Armand Colin, 1949); Peregrin Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea. A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000). [4] See Braudel’s study on how the geographical and cultural consistency and uniformity of the Mediterranean has affected humanity and our perception of the natural Connectivity — a concept later adapted by Horden and Purcell — plays a major role. Although the latter refer to the fragmented nature of the micro-regions, the natural disposition of a larger inland sea implies a bond and an exchange that ultimately ensures unity in diversity — which is once again elevated to the specificity of the Mediterranean. See: Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen; Horden and Purcell, The Corrupting Sea; Mihran Dabag et al., ‘“New Horizons” der Mittelmeerforschung. Einleitung’, in New Horizons. Mediterranean Research in the 21st Century, eds. Mihran Dabag et al., Mittelmeerstudien, 10 (Paderborn: Fink/Schöningh, 2016). [5] Rachel S. Harris, ‘Israel. Finding the Levant within the Mediterranean’, review of The Place of the Mediterranean in Modern Israeli Identity by Alexandra Nocke, The Levantine Review, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 107-8. [6] Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Ton in Ton. Jüdische Keramikerinnen aus Deutschland nach 1933. Online exhibition 2013, Google Arts and Culture, 2013, https://artsandculture.google.com/story/IQVBfUHgPN-sLA?hl=de. [7] Even though Charag-Zuntz, like colleagues of hers, such as Hedwig Grossmann, had not attended the famous art school, she attests in an interview with Antje Soléau to growing up in ‘the artistic atmosphere of the Bauhaus’ and emphasises its tangible influence on the ceramic attitudes of the young ceramicists in Germany in the Cf.: Antje Soleáu, ‘Zwei Leben — Zwei Schicksale: Margarete Heymann-Loebenstein und Hanna Charag-Zuntz’, Neue Keramik, no. 1 (2016): 33. [8] For the following paragraph see: Michal Friedlander, ‘Vasen statt Milchflaschen — Eva Samuel, Hedwig Grossmann und Hanna Charag-Zuntz: Die Töpferpionierinnen in Palästina nach 1932’, in Avantgarde für den Jüdische Keramikerinnen in Deutschland 1919—1933. Marguerite Friedlaender- Wildenhain, Margarete Heymann-Marks, Eva Stricker-Zeisel, Berlin, Bröhan- Museum, 2013, 104–11. Exhibition catalogue, https://www.jmberlin.de/sites/default/files/katalogbeitrag_friedlander_0.pdf. [9] The Israel Institute of Industrial Design in consultation with The American Federation of Arts, eds., Forms from Israel, New York, Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City, 1958–1960. Exhibition catalogue, https://digital.craftcouncil.org/digital/collection/p15785coll5/id/4735/rec/2. [10] Ibid., 44ff. [11] Friedlander, ‘Vasen statt Milchflaschen’, 108-9. On roots of Jewish pottery in ancient Canaanite finds, see: Gidon Ofrat, ‘The Beginnings of Israeli Ceramics’, Ariel 90 (1992): 79. The authors of the exhibition catalogues largely dismiss the influence of the ‘small’ and ‘little’ Arab pots, especially since they produced the porous earthenware disdained by German ceramists. Cf.: Soleáu, ‘Zwei Leben — Zwei Schicksale‘, 33. [12] The Israel Institute of Industrial Design et. al., Forms from Israel, 6-7. [13] For the following paragraph see: Harris, ‘Israel’, 106–11. [14] Samson Smadar, ‘Introduction’, in 70 Years of Craft and Design, Mingei International Museum, 2018—2021, ed. Jean Patterson, San Diego, House of Israel, 2018, 12-13. Exhibition catalogue. [15] Jean Patterson, ed., 70 Years of Craft and Design, San Diego, Mingei International Museum, 2018—2021, San Diego, House of Israel, 2018, exhibition catalogue. Mingei International Museum, ‘About: Mission and Vision,’ accessed 9 February 2023. https://mingei.org/about/mission. [16] Patterson, Israel, 92ff. [17] Mingei International Museum, ‘About’. [18] Patterson, Israel, 92-3. [19] Vilém Flusser, ‘Nationalsprachen’, in Von der Freiheit des Einsprüche gegen den Nationalismus (Hamburg: CEP Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 2013), 12. [20] The term dates to the 18th A name from antiquity is not certain. Cf.: Verena Hasenbach, ‘Terra Sigillata’, Historisches Lexikon, 31 December 2011, https://historisches-lexikon.li/Terra_sigillata. [21] Ofrat, ‘The Beginnings of Israeli Ceramics’, 87. [22] For the following paragraph, see: Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf, ‘Kahanoff’s Levantinism: The Anachronic Possibilities of a Concept’, BAK, accessed 3 February 2022, https://www.bakonline.org/prospections/kahanoffs-levantinism-the-anachronic-possibilities-of-a-concept/. [23] Jaqueline Kahanoff, ‘Reflections of a Levantine Jew’, Jewish Frontier, April 1958, 7, cited in Meyer and Schaerf, ‘Kahanoff’s Levantinism’. [24] Meyer and Schaerf, ‘Kahanoff’s Levantinism’; Harris, ‘Israel’, 107-8. [25] Harris, ‘Israel’, 108. [26] Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff, ‘Ambivalent Levantine’, in Mongrels or Marvels: The Levantine Writings of Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff, Deborah A. Starr and Sasson Somekh (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 193–212. [27] Ibid. [28] Karen Grumberg, Place and Ideology in Contemporary Hebrew Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2010), 243, cited in Harris, ‘Israel’, 116. [29] Abraham B. Yehoshúa, ‘Beyond Folklore: The Identity of the Sephardic Jew’, Quaderns de La Mediterrània, no. 14 (2010), https://www.iemed.org/publication/beyond-folklore-the-identity-of-the-sephardic-jew-2/. [30] Ronit Matalon, The One Facing Us (New York: Metropolian Books, 1998), 214, cited in Harris, ‘Israel’, 116. [31] Harris, ‘Israel’, 107. [32] The objects were shown in an Israeli exhibition in 2019, which dealt with inter-generational dialogue among the artists. Cf.: Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Centre, Type of a Dialogue — Hanna Charag-Zuntz, Michal Alon, exhibition, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, 2019, https://www.benyaminiceramics.org/en/ceramic-galleries/past-exhibitions/2019-2/type-if-a-dialogue/. [33] Ofrat, ‘The Beginnings of Israeli Ceramics’, 76. [34] From a quote by the ceramist Hedwig Grossmann-Lehmann on the beginnings of Israeli ceramics. Cf.: Maika Korfmacher, ‘Hanna Charag-Zuntz und Varda Yatom’, in Hanna Charag-Zuntz und Varda Yatom. Gefäße und Skulpturen aus Israel, ed. Bernd Hakenjos, Düsseldorf, Hetjens Museum, 1998, 6. Exhibition catalogue. [35] Ibid., 7, as well as Tadmor, Tova Berlinski. [36] For an overview of Levantine jars from the ancient Mediterranean region, see: Barbara Cavaliere and Jennifer Udell, eds., Ancient Mediterranean Art. The William D. and Jane Welsh Collection at Fordham University (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012). For Syrian or Palestinian traditional pottery, see: Gisela Zahlhaas, Prähistorische Staatssammlung. Keramiken des Vorderen Orients im internationalen Keramik-Museum Weiden, (1990). Collection catalogue; John Landgraf and Owen Rye, ‘Introduction’, in Palestinian Traditional Pottery. A Contribution to Palestinian Culture, eds. Elizabeth Burr et al. (Leuven/Paris/Bristol: Peeters, 2021), XXVII–XXX. [37] Cavaliere and Udell, Ancient Mediterranean Art, especially 334. [38] For example, in the exhibition 70 Years of Craft and Design. Cf.: Patterson, Israel, 92. [39] Gil Hochberg, ‘“Permanent Immigration”: Jacqueline Kahanoff, Ronit Matalon, and the Impetus of Levantinism’, Boundary 31, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 220–21, cited in Harris, ‘Israel’, 107. [40] Ibid. [41] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guttari, A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, First published 1980 by Éd. de Minuit, Paris), cited in: Cavan Concannon and Lindsey A. Mazurek, ‘Introduction: A New Connectivity for the Twenty-First Century,’ in Across the Corrupting Sea: Post-Braudelian Approaches to the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, eds. Cavan W. Concannon and Lindsey A. Mazurek (London: Routledge, 2016), 14. [42] Matthew D’Auria and Fernanda Gallo, ‘Introduction. Ideas of Europe and the (Modern) Mediterranean’, in Mediterranean Europe(s). Rethinking Europe from its Southern Shores, Matthew D’Auria and Fernanda Gallo (London/New York: Routledge, 2023).
Bibliography
Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Centre, Type of a Dialogue — Hanna Charag-Zuntz, Michal Alon. Exhibition, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, 2019. https://www.benyaminiceramics.org/en/ceramic-galleries/past-exhibitions/2019-2/type-if-a-dialogue/. Braudel, Fernand, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’epoque de Philippe II. Paris: Armand Colin, 1949. Cavaliere, Barbara and Jennifer Udell, eds. Ancient Mediterranean Art. The William D. and Jane Welsh Collection at Fordham University. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. Concannon, Cavan, and Lindsey A. Mazurek, eds. Across the Corrupting Sea: Post-Braudelian Approaches to the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean. London: Routledge, 2016. Dabag, Mihran, Dieter Haller, Nikolas Jaspers and Achim Lichtenberger. ‘“New Horizons” der Mittelmeerforschung. Einleitung’. In New Horizons. Mediterranean Research in the 21st Century, edited by Mihran Dabag, Dieter Haller, Nikolas Jaspers, and Achim Lichtenberger, Mittelmeerstudien, 10. Paderborn: Fink/Schöningh, 2016. D’Auria, Matthew and Fernanda Gallo. ‘Introduction. Ideas of Europe and the (Modern) Mediterranean’. In Mediterranean Europe(s). Rethinking Europe from its Southern Shores, edited by Matthew D’Auria and Fernanda Gallo. London/New York: Routledge, 2023. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guttari, A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. First published 1980 by Éd. de Minuit, Paris). Duden. ‘Narrativ’, 2023. https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Narrativ_Erzaehlung_Geschichte. Flusser, Vilém, ‘Nationalsprachen’. In Von der Freiheit des Migranten. Einsprüche gegen den Nationalismus, 11–14. Hamburg: CEP Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 2013. Friedlander, Michal, ‘Vasen statt Milchflaschen — Eva Samuel, Hedwig Grossmann and Hanna Charag-Zuntz: Die Töpferpionierinnen in Palästina Nach 1932’. In Avantgarde für den Alltag. Jüdische Keramikerinnen in Deutschland 1919—1933. Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, Margarete Heymann-Marks, Eva Stricker-Zeisel, 104–11. Berlin: Bröhan-Museum. Exhibition catalogue, https://www.jmberlin.de/sites/default/files/katalogbeitrag_friedlander_0.pdf. global dis:connect, ‘Research’, 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/research/disconnectivity/. Google Arts and Culture, Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Ton in Ton. Jüdische Keramikerinnen aus Deutschland nach 1933, online exhibition, 2013. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/IQVBfUHgPN-sLA?hl=de. Grumberg, Karen, Place and Ideology in Contemporary Hebrew Literature. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2010. Harris, Rachel S., ‘Israel. Finding the Levant within the Mediterranean. Review of The Place of the Mediterranean in Modern Israeli Identity by Alexandra Nocke, The Levantine Review, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 106–17. Hasenbach, Verena, ‘Terra Sigillata’. Historisches Lexikon, 31 December 2011. https://historisches-lexikon.li/Terra_sigillata. Heine, Matthias, ‘Hinz und Kunz schwafeln heutzutage vom “Narrativ”’. Die Welt, 13 November 2016. https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article159450529/Hinz-und-Kunz-schwafeln-heutzutage-vom-Narrativ.html. Hochberg, Gil, ‘“Permanent Immigration”: Jacqueline Kahanoff, Ronit Matalon, and the Impetus of Levantinism’. Boundary 31, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 219–43. Horden, Peregrin, and Nicholas Purcell. The Corrupting Sea. A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Israel Institute of Industrial Design, The, in consultation with The American Federation of Arts, ed. Forms from Israel. New York: Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City, 1958. Exhibition catalogue, https://digital.craftcouncil.org/digital/collection/p15785coll5/id/4735/rec/2. Kahanoff, Jacqueline Shohet, ‘Ambivalent Levantine’. In Mongrels or Marvels: The Levantine Writings of Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff, edited by Debora A. Starr and Sasson Somekh, 193–212. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. Kahanoff, Jaqueline, ‘Reflections of a Levantine Jew’. Jewish Frontier, April 1958. Korfmacher, Maika ‘Hanna Charag-Zuntz und Varda Yatom’, in Hanna Charag-Zuntz und Varda Yatom. Gefäße und Skulpturen aus Israel, edited by Bernd Hakenjos, 6–8. Düsseldorf, Hetjens Museum, 1998. Exhibition catalogue. Landgraf, John and Owen Rye, ‘Introduction’. In Palestinian Traditional Pottery. A Contribution to Palestinian Culture, edited by Elizabeth Burr, Jean- Baptiste Humbert, Owen Rye and Hamed Salem, XXVII–XXX. Leuven/Paris/ Bristol: Peeters, 2021. Matalon, Ronit, The One Facing Us. New York: Metropolian Books, 1998. Meyer, Eva and Eran Schaerf, ‘Kahanoff’s Levantinism: The Anachronic Possibilities of a Concept’. Prospections. Accessed 3 February 2022. https://www.bakonline.org/prospections/kahanoffs-levantinism-the-anachronic-possibilities-of-a-concept/. Ofrat, Gidon, ‘The Beginnings of Israeli Ceramics’. Ariel 90 (1992): 75–94. Patterson, Jean, Israel. 70 Years of Craft and Design, San Diego, Mingei International Museum, 2018—2021. San Diego: House of Israel, 2018. Exhibition catalogue. Seibel, Wolfgang. ‘Hegemoniale Semantiken und radikale Gegennarrative. Beitrag zum Arbeitsgespräch des Kulturwissenschaftlichen Kollegs Uni Konstanz.’ Konstanz, 2009. https://www.exc16.uni-konstanz.de/fileadmin/all/downloads/veranstaltungen2009/Seibel-Heg-Semantiken-090122.pdf. Smadar, Samson, ‘Introduction’. In Israel. 70 Years of Craft and Design. Mingei International Museum, 2018—2021, edited by Jean Patterson, San Diego, House of Israel, 2018. Exhibition catalogue. Soleáu, Antje, ‘Zwei Leben — Zwei Schicksale: Margarete Heymann- Loebenstein und Hanna Charag-Zuntz’. Neue Keramik, no. 1 (2016): 30–33. Yehoshúa, Abraham B. ‘Beyond Folklore: The Identity of the Sephardic Jew’. Quaderns de La Mediterrània, no. 14 (2010). Zahlhaas, Gisela, Prähistorische Staatssammlung. Keramiken des Vorderen Orients im internationalen Keramik-Museum Weiden. Collection Catalogue. Weiden: Keramik-Museum Weiden, 1990.
citation information:
Geiger, Hanni. ‘Hanna Charag-Zuntz’s Levantine Ceramics: Dis:Connecting Objects through Narratives’. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 2 May 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/05/02/hanna-charag-zuntzs-levantine-ceramics-disconnecting-objects-through-narratives/.
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Haeckel’s corals: on the extraction, collection and circulation of scientific objects

[Editor's note: this essay is the first in a series on the topic of dis:connected objects, curated by our own Burcu Dogramaci, Hanni Geiger and alumna fellow Änne Söll. The series originated with the workshop on dis:connected objects held in June 2022 and will appear in a special issue of static in May. Enjoy.]
petra löffler
 
‘… scientific objects are elusive and hard-won.’ (Lorraine Daston)

Magical corals

When the natural scientist Ernst Haeckel visited the shores of the Red Sea in March 1873, a dream came true for him: to see ‘the magical coral reefs’[1] with his own eyes. However, he went not only to admire the beauty and diversity of the abundant coral species that have fascinated naturalists and artists since antiquity,[2] but also to extract samples of his own from the sea. Corals are polyps (animals) that live in symbiosis with certain algae (plants), which they shelter in their calciferous exoskeletons, receiving nutrients in return. They live in colonies building the reefs that house many small species. Corals first have to be disconnected from their natural habitat to become collectible and classifiable scientific objects.[3] My aim is to reconstruct the migration routes and transformations that the extracted corals had to undertake from their natural watery habitat in the shallows around the Sinai Peninsula to the dry natural history museums in Germany. As I will show, Haeckel’s corals have passed through all commonplaces of Western science: the field as a space of exploration, the laboratory as a space of manipulation, the museum as a space of presentation and the archive as a space of circulation.[4] In following their traces through inventory lists, correspondences and publications, I seek the ‘waves of action’ they are nevertheless able to release.[5] As collection items, each specimen has its own history and ‘biography’ of extraction and migration from their areas of origin to the natural-history collections and museum repositories in the global North.

Figure 1: Madrepora (Acropora) squarrosa, collected 1873 by Ernst Haeckel near El Tor, Phyletic Museum, Jena (photo: Bernhard Bock).

Today, Haeckel’s extensive collection of corals is distributed across various scientific institutions, such as Berlin’s Natural History Museum and Jena’s Phyletic Museum. While some samples are exhibited as showpieces (figure 1), the majority of the impressive stock of corals is stored in repositories and thus disentangled once again (figure 2). Seen in this light, ‘his’ corals are not only disconnected but undead objects that raise questions about the entanglements of Western natural science and colonial politics in their extraction and involuntary migration.

Figure 2 a & b: Phyletic Museum, Jena, repository of Haeckel’s coral specimens (photo: Bernhard Bock).

With his 1873 journey, Haeckel explicitly followed in the footsteps of the natural scientist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, who had already travelled to the Red Sea in 1832 and had taken up quarters in El Tor to study coral species in their natural habitat.[6] Haeckel returned to this village on the west coast of the Red Sea, which soon became a regional locus for coral research. In his travel report, published in 1875, Haeckel complains about the ‘many and great difficulties’ of his journey to the scarcely populated Sinai Peninsula, which was, at least in the culturally biased eyes of the Western traveller, ‘mostly inhabited only by poor, half-wild Muhammedans’. ‘One must bring tents, servants, food and drinking water oneself in order to exist there. Nor is there any regular steamship connection between Suez and these wretched coastal places’.[7] The alternative overland route through the Sinai desert seemed to him equally arduous and time-consuming and, as he notes, ‘the transport of the corals I wished to collect would have been very awkward on the camel’.[8] Fortunately, the German naturalist could do without camels and servants because he could use the existing modern infrastructure of the country, which officially belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In his report, he describes hardships that were not too severe for a wealthy Western traveller. Haeckel could comfortably travel from Cairo to Suez with the railroad that opened in 1857, and he reached El Tor on board of an Egyptian navy steamship. These newly built imperial travel and transport routes, including the Suez Canal that opened in 1869, played an important part in the consolidation of colonial power.

Extracting corals

Arriving in El Tor, the whole harbour appeared to Haeckel as ‘a charming coral garden’.[9] His report betrays how possessive he was of the local people, who built their houses and harbour facilities from dead stone corals: ‘Some of these wretched huts hold in a single wall a larger collection of beautiful coral blocks than can be found in many European museums. We would have loved to buy up the whole village, pack it up and send it home’.[10] This did not happen, however, because the zoologist was even more excited about the abundance of coral communities living in the reefs fringing the village. In order to extract them from their natural habitat, he relied on local fishermen, who provided boats and were experienced pearl divers. As Haeckel reports, ‘[t]hey were neither equipped with diving bells nor with scaphander or other diving apparatus; but they swam so excellently, could stay under water so long and knew so skilfully how to detach even larger corals from their points of attachment that they never resurfaced without surprising us with new splendid gifts of coral’.[11] I am not as concerned with Haeckel’s admiration for the skill of the local divers as with his remark on the magnificent corals as ‘splendid gifts’. As anthropologist Nicholas Thomas points out, gifts are always part of complex exchange relations, that is ‘a political process, one in which wider relationships are expressed and negotiated in a personal encounter’.[12] Moreover, Haeckel describes the coral extraction as a fabulously successful treasure hunt: ‘As soon as we have indicated the desired object to our divers, they jump down. [...] In a few hours our boats are filled with the most precious treasures’.[13] Not only does he claim ownership of the corals, he extends this notion to those who did the work, whom he unhesitatingly refers to as ‘our divers’. In Haeckel’s rationalist Western worldview, the evocation of nature’s wealth is the prerequisite of the ability to freely take possession of it. Claims of ownership overlap with ideas of the assumed superiority of Western economy, culture and science that are entangled with regimes of coloniality.[14] Haeckel’s journey stood under the protection of the Egyptian regime, which also ruled over the Greek-Arab population of the Sinai. His travel report is dedicated to the Ottoman ruler Ismail Pasha for good reason. As a Western scientist, Haeckel undoubtedly profited from colonial power, even though he explicitly acknowledged the valuable support and hospitality of the local fishermen of El Tor.[15]

Collecting corals

Corals are a promising research object for the art-loving zoologist because of their immense diversity and their special way of living in colonies.[16] The title page of Arabische Korallen (Arabian Corals), designed by Haeckel himself, gives an impression of the richness of forms of these so-called anthozoans or floral animals (figure 3). His admiration for these diverse species was partly ignited by their metabolism (each individual polyp has a stomach and is therefore a person in a strictly biological sense) and because these coral persons settle in large colonies on submarine rocks.

Figure 3: Ernst Heackel: Kalkgerüste toter Korallen von Tur (Calcareous scaffolds of dead corals from El Tor), Arabian Corals, 1875, plate II (scan: Petra Löffler).

Haeckel, who promoted Darwin’s theory of evolution and shared with the English naturalist his admiration for corals as reef architects,[17] coined the term ‘ecology’.[18] He became especially interested in coral communities as habitats for various other small marine species that perform a kind of ‘social democracy’.[19] With this metaphor, corals enter the realm of politics and become a model for a civil society with equal members. At the same time, these coral communities reminded Haeckel of a miniature ‘zoological museum’.[20] Exactly this last notion turns living corals into a scientific object even before their extraction. The illustrations in Haeckel’s travelogue represent the richness of forms and the specific morphology of corals (figure 4). What is particularly revealing, however, is how he transformed them into scientific objects and proceeded as a collector. To transport the removed coral specimen, Haeckel already made extensive arrangements before his arrival in El Tor and ordered a great quantity of wooden boxes and big glass jars. The transportation of marine species required special practices, logistics and knowledge of their needs.[21] The fact that in the end only twelve boxes with both wet and dry specimens arrived in his hometown of Jena, as he noted with regret,[22] shows the scale of his ambition as a collector.

Figure 4: Ernst Heackel: Arabische Korallen (Arabian Corals), 1875, title page (scan: Petra Löffler).

Naturalists can prove themselves experts by collecting specific specimens and identifying new species. The zoologist Carl Benjamin Klunzinger, for instance, who also travelled to El Tor, praised professional collecting as a serious scientific activity. He documented his collecting activities in Bilder aus Oberägypten, der Wüste und dem Rothen Meere (Images from Upper Egypt, the Desert and the Red Sea), published in 1877 with 22 drawings. Extensive collecting of specimens was primarily intended to benefit scientific teaching and object lessons. But corals die quickly in the air and lose their colour. To depict their diverse forms and vivid colours, the explorer and painter Eugen Baron Ransonnet-Villez developed a special diving apparatus and made underwater drawings on site. Nevertheless, the colourful depictions of reef colonies that adorn the publications of Ransonnet-Villez (1863) and Haeckel are idealised images that underline the necessity of visual representations to advance scientific knowledge (figure 5).[23]

Figure 5: Eugen Baron Ransonnet-Villez: Reise von Kairo nach Tor zu den Korallenbänken des rothen Meeres (Journey from Cairo to Tor to the Coral Banks of the Red Sea), 1863, plate I.

Regimes of circulation

What did Haeckel do in Jena, where he had held a professorship in zoology since 1865, with all the corals he had appropriated? His collection was initially used for the morphological classification of a phylum whose diversity he had always admired. Some particularly splendid specimens became showpieces in his Villa Medusa. Some are also currently exhibited in the Haeckel Museum in Jena. Others ended up in the Phyletic Museum, which Haeckel founded in 1908. There, 128 coral specimens are still kept, among them 25 from El Tor.[24] He gave other pieces to the Natural History Museum in Berlin, which opened in 1889. Thereupon a lively correspondence began between the natural scientists, in which the exchange of collection objects was a recurring topic. On 25 November 1897, for instance, Karl Möbius, the director of its zoological collections at the time, thanked Haeckel in a short letter for sending corals and jellyfish to Berlin. Many such letters that Haeckel wrote contain long lists of the specimens exchanged and testify to the great interest in their circulation (figure 6). To this day, Haeckel’s corals from El Tor are kept in the archive cabinet 98/93 at the Natural History Museum.[25]

Figure 6: List of marine invertebrates’ specimens given to Ernst Haeckel by the Berlin Museum of Natural History in exchange with coral specimens (Letter from 10/17/1897 with a note by Karl Möbius from 10/18/1897) (source: Berlin Museum of Natural History)

In order to demonstrate the political significance of the natural sciences, large natural-history collections were important prestige projects for the newly founded scientific institutions, such as the afore mentioned Berlin Museum of Natural History or the Phyletic Museum in Jena. [26] These collections were intended to illustrate nature’s diversity and general order in detail. In short, they served to open the great book of nature and make it scientifically readable. To present the taxonomic order of species, it seemed necessary for biologists to collect as many specimens as possible and to exchange them with other researchers, even if this exchange dissolved the original collection. Haeckel’s collection is only recognisable today through inventory lists. As natural-history objects disconnected from their natural habitat, these specimens only attain scientific significance within the taxonomic scheme as developed by Carl Linné in the 18th century, which remained the prevailing mode of ordering biological objects until the end of the 19th century.[27] Showcases in natural history museums and the storage system in their repositories still represent this Western ‘order of things’. In addition, museum displays try to reanimate the vivid natural habitat of coral reefs by creating dioramas or VR experiences for their visitors even today. In times of anthropogenic climate change, however, coral reefs are suffering from the heating and acidification of the ocean and will soon be extinct, many marine scientists suspect.[28] The discovery of new species and variants has been a crucial task in biology as a discipline of Western science for hundreds of years and was, as I have demonstrated, intricately connected to colonial claims. Now marine biologists search for corals that are more resistant to global warming and its effects and to extract them from their marine habitats to breed new species. Calling the invention of corals in the laboratory – in Darwin’s footsteps – ‘assisted evolution’, they involuntary add a new chapter to the marginalised colonial history of the natural sciences.[29] [1] Ernst Haeckel, Arabische Korallen (Berlin: Verlag von G. Reimer, 1875), 23, All translations from Haeckel’s Arabische Korallen (Arabian Corals) are by the author. [2] Marion Endt-Jones, Coral: Something Rich and Strange (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013). [3] On the making of scientific objects and their biographies, see: Igor Kopytoff, ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process’, in The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), 64–91 and ; Lorraine Daston, ed., Biographies of Scientific Objects (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000). [4] See: David Livingstone, Putting Science in Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). [5] I draw here on Bruno Latour’s claim that living and non-living entities are entangled in networks and able to act: Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017), 101; See also: Bruno Latour, Pandora’s Hope: Essays in the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 1999). [6] Ehrenberg published his findings on the coral reef communities of the Red Sea in 1834. At the same time, from 1832 to 1836, Charles Darwin made his circumnavigation on the HMS Beagle and researched the formation and distribution of coral reefs around the world, see: Charles Darwin, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs: Being the First Part of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle (1832-1836) (London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1842); He also collected coral specimens as evidence for his hypothesis of how the different reef types formed. They are now in the holdings of the Natural History Museum in London, see: Hayley Dunning, ‘Charles Darwin’s Coral Conundrum’, Natural History Museum, 23 January 2023, https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/charles-darwin-coral-conundrum.html. [7] Haeckel, Arabische Korallen, 23–24. [8] Haeckel, 24. [9] Haeckel, 29. [10] Haeckel, 30. [11] Haeckel, 30. [12] Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge/London: Havard University Press, 1991), 7. [13] Haeckel, Arabische Korallen, 31. [14] Walter D. Mignolo defines coloniality as ‘the underlying logic of the foundation and unfolding of Western civilization from the Renaissance to today of which historical colonialisms have been a constitutive, although down-played, dimension’: Walter D. Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity. Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2011), 2. [15] In the 1880s, marine biologist Johannes Walther visited El Tor again to undertake a survey on the geological formation of the fringing-reef-rich Red Sea. From Suez, he took the route through the desert with camels. In his report, Walther thanked the German ‘consulate agent’ in El Tor, Hannén, and his sons for their assistance with coral diving: Johannes Walther, Die Korallenriffe Der Sinaihalbinsel: Geologische Und Biologische Betrachtungen (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1888), 471. [16] At the time of the publication of Arabian Corals, ‘more than one thousand different living coral species, and the fossilised skeletons of more than three thousand extinct species’ were already known: Haeckel, Arabische Korallen, 3. [17] On the discovery of the reef-building activity of corals in the 18th century by explorers such as Johann Reinhold Forster or Louis-Antoine Bougainville, see: Alistair Sponsel, ‘From Cook to Cousteau: The Many Lives of Coral Reefs’, in Fluid Frontiers: New Currents in Marine Environmental History, ed. John R. Gillis and Franziska Torma (Cambridge: The White Horse Press, 2015), 137–61. [18] In his Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (General Morphology of Organisms), Haeckel defines ecology as ‘the general science of the interdependence among organisms’: Ernst Haeckel, Generelle Morphologie Der Organismen: Allgemeine Grundzüge Der Organischen Formenwissenschaft, Mechanisch Begründet Durch Die von Charles Darwin Reformirte Descendenztheorie, Vol. II: Allgemeine Entwickelungsgeschichte der Organismen (Verlag von G. Reimer, 1866), 236, Authors Translation. [19] Haeckel, Arabische Korallen, 20. [20] Haeckel, 20,35. [21] See: Mareiken Vennen, Das Aquarium: Praktiken, Techniken Und Medien Der Wissensproduktion (1840 – 1910) (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2018), 235–63. [22] Haeckel, Arabische Korallen, 35. [23] For a deeper understanding of the importance of visual representations in Haeckel’s work, see: Olaf Breidbach, Ernst Haeckel. Bildwelten Der Natur. (Munich/Berlin/London/New York: Prestel, 2006), 187–94. [24] For information on coral specimens in the Jena Phyletic Museum collected by Haeckel at the Red Sea coast, I thank the preparator Bernhard L. Bock, who also provided photographs. [25] For this information I thank the curator of the marine invertebrates collection, Carsten Lüter, and the research assistant Fiona Möhrle for providing the exchange of letters. [26] See: Susanne Köstering, Natur Zum Anschauen: Das Naturkundemuseum Des Deutschen Kaiserreichs 1871-1914 (Cologne/Weimar/Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2003); And: Carsten Kretschmann, Räume Öffnen Sich: Naturhistorische Museen Im Deutschland Des 19. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 2006). [27] See: Kretschmann, Räume Öffnen Sich: Naturhistorische Museen Im Deutschland Des 19. Jahrhunderts, 92; Since the middle of the century aquariums and dioramas of watery environments became an attraction of many natural history museums and zoological gardens in the global North (and of wealthy homes in the case of the former) seeking to mimic the lively and colorful natural habitat of marine species and their ecology. See: Natascha Adamowsky, The Mysterious Science of the Sea, 1775-1943 (Abingdon/New York: Routledge, 2016); And Endt-Jones, Coral: Something Rich and Strange, 7–16. [28] See, for instance: J.E.N. Veron, Corals in Space and Time: Biogeography and Evolution of the Scleractinia. Ithaca; NY: Cornell University Press, 1995. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995); And Sean D. Connell and Gillanders Bronwyn, eds., Marine Ecology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 328–49. [29] See: Petra Löffler, ‘Colonizing the Ocean: Coral Reef Histories in the Anthropocene’, in Earth and beyond in Tumultuous Times. A Critical Atlas of the Anthropocene, ed. Réka Patrícia Gál and Petra Löffler (Lüneburg: Meson Press, 2021), 185–213.
bibliography
Adamowsky, Natascha. The Mysterious Science of the Sea, 1775-1943. Abingdon/New York: Routledge, 2016. Breidbach, Olaf. Ernst Haeckel. Bildwelten Der Natur. Munich/Berlin/London/New York: Prestel, 2006. Connell, Sean D., and Gillanders Bronwyn, eds. Marine Ecology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. Darwin, Charles. The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs: Being the First Part of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle (1832-1836). London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1842. Daston, Lorraine, ed. Biographies of Scientific Objects. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Dunning, Hayley. ‘Charles Darwin’s Coral Conundrum’. Natural History Museum, 23 January 2023. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/charles-darwin-coral-conundrum.html. Endt-Jones, Marion. Coral: Something Rich and Strange. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013. Haeckel, Ernst. Arabische Korallen. Berlin: Verlag von G. Reimer, 1875. ———. Generelle Morphologie Der Organismen: Allgemeine Grundzüge Der Organischen Formenwissenschaft, Mechanisch Begründet Durch Die von Charles Darwin Reformirte Descendenztheorie. Vol. II: Allgemeine Entwickelungsgeschichte der Organismen. Verlag von G. Reimer, 1866. Kopytoff, Igor. ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process’. In The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai, 64–91. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Köstering, Susanne. Natur Zum Anschauen: Das Naturkundemuseum Des Deutschen Kaiserreichs 1871-1914. Cologne/Weimar/Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2003. Kretschmann, Carsten. Räume Öffnen Sich: Naturhistorische Museen Im Deutschland Des 19. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 2006. Latour, Bruno. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017. ———. Pandora’s Hope: Essays in the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 1999. Livingstone, David. Putting Science in Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Löffler, Petra. ‘Colonizing the Ocean: Coral Reef Histories in the Anthropocene’. In Earth and beyond in Tumultuous Times. A Critical Atlas of the Anthropocene, edited by Réka Patrícia Gál and Petra Löffler, 185–213. Lüneburg: Meson Press, 2021. Mignolo, Walter D. The Darker Side of Western Modernity. Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2011. Sponsel, Alistair. ‘From Cook to Cousteau: The Many Lives of Coral Reefs’. In Fluid Frontiers: New Currents in Marine Environmental History, edited by John R. Gillis and Franziska Torma, 137–61. Cambridge: The White Horse Press, 2015. Thomas, Nicholas. Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific. Cambridge/London: Havard University Press, 1991. Vennen, Mareiken. Das Aquarium: Praktiken, Techniken Und Medien Der Wissensproduktion (1840 – 1910). Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2018. Veron, J.E.N. Corals in Space and Time: Biogeography and Evolution of the Scleractinia. Ithaca; NY: Cornell University Press, 1995. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995. Walther, Johannes. Die Korallenriffe Der Sinaihalbinsel: Geologische Und Biologische Betrachtungen. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1888.
citation information:
Löffler, Petra. ‘Haeckel’s Corals: On the Extraction, Collection and Circulation of Scientific Objects’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 18 April 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/04/18/haeckels-corals-on-the-extraction-collection-and-circulation-of-scientific-objects/.
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Roii Ball takes up fellowship

In April, historian Roii Ball commenced his term as a fellow at global dis:connect. Welcome, Roii! Roii Ball is a social historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century Germany and Central Europe and their colonial entanglements. He is a postdoctoral lead researcher at the Religion and Politics Cluster of Excellence at the University of Münster. Ball earned his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2021 with a dissertation on the social dynamics and bureaucratic practices of German colonisation in the Polish provinces of Prussia before WWI (Advisor: David Sabean).   Ball’s work focuses on family and kinship to explore histories of colonisation and their intersection with empire-making and nation-making. His research interests include the history of knowledge, history of childhood, environmental history, and digital history. He has held fellowships at the University of Cologne, the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, and the Leibnitz Institute for European History in Mainz. During 2023 and 2024, he will also be a visiting research fellow at global dis:connect. Continue Reading

Cathrine Bublatzky joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new guest Cathrine Bublatzky who joins global dis:connect in early April. Cathrine Bublatzky is a media anthropologist and senior lecturer at the University of Tübingen. She was formerly assistant professor at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies. She researches diaspora and exile, archives, visual and digital media cultures, photography, art, activism, and the aesthetics and politics of belonging throughout Europe, South Asia and the Middle East. Cathrine has been speaker of the DFG Network Entangled Histories of Art and Migration: Forms, Visibilities, Agents (2018–2022) and author of Along the Indian Highway: An Ethnography of an International Travelling Exhibition, a monograph published by Routledge. Her project Contemporary Photography as Cultural Praxis of Iranians in the European Diaspora, which she will continue at global dis:connect, was awarded a scholarship by the Baden-Württemberg Foundation.   Continue Reading

Looking back on global dis:connect’s first annual conference: Dis:connectivity in processes of globalisation: theories, methodologies, explorations

peter seeland
  The global:disconnect annual conference took place from 20 to 21 October 2022, and it sought to clarify methodological and theoretical questions as well as to reflect on our research in general. By investigating global dis:connections, the Centre is inaugurating a new research programme. It emphasises the roles of delays and detours, of interruptions and resistances, of the active absence of connections in globalisation processes and investigates their social significance. One of the starting premises is that connectivity and disconnectivitity are not dichotomous; they are, rather, mutually constitutive in a relationship we call ‘dis:connectivity’. Fundamental methodological questions about how to research dis:connectivity remain to be answered. The central terms and how to apply them also demand attention. Multi-perspectival research on dis:connectivity fosters interdisciplinary dialogue on these questions. The conference also served as a space for just such a dialogue. Artists and scholars interacted, with each side gaining the benefit of exposure to the other. The conference comprised three thematic panels — absences, detours and interruptions —to structure and concretise the discourse.
Image: Ben Kamis
Richard M. Kabiito opened the event with the panel on absences. With a paper on Globalising Ugandan art: remixing the contest between tradition and modernity, Kabiito posed the question of absence and dis:connectivity in postcolonial Uganda and its culture. He described the estrangement and absence from African tradition left behind by colonialism. He construed the dis:connective relationship between tradition and modernity, between the indigenous and the foreign, as an identity crisis that a new African art of a ‘New Africa’ is facing. Moreover, Kabiito contributed artistic methods to the methodological discourse. Through art from Uganda, which is ‘a living modern art deeply rooted in tradition’, this absence and estrangement can be uncovered and overcome. Thus, artistic practice contributes to cultural decolonisation and functions as a method of dealing with absence and dis:connectivity. Kabiito connected art and research conclusively with a transdisciplinary method, one able to profoundly affect the culture of a ‘New Africa’. Gabriele Klein continued with a talk about The dancing body is absent/present. Methodological and theoretical aspects of digitalisation in dance. She described the approach to dance in dance studies as intrinsically dis:connected. Dance fades in its physicality after the performance. It seems simultaneously absent and present in the memories of the spectators, but it also appears transformed and present in other media. Questions about the absence of corporeality especially in relation to digital media pose epistemological problems for dance studies. Here, Klein focused on social media platforms such as TikTok, in which dance is represented in many forms and can be accessed globally. She proposed a praxeological method that respects the differences between dance and dance studies and includes the new, young generation of digitally influenced choreographers with a global reach. She concluded that digital media can partially overcome absences, but researchers need to reflect more than ever on their use of medium and methods. The ensuing discussion revealed changes in dance through digital and global social media. Contrary to the expectation that more possibilities for participation would flourish on digital media, Klein observed a standardisation of dance in the digital and thus a dwindling of diversity. Later, the artist Aleksandra Domanović spoke about cultural dislocation in her presentation From yu to me to turbo culture: presence and absence in internet technology and culture in the former Yugoslavia. The absence of a state that has dissolved with all its institutions but is present in the past of its former citizens results in a crisis of identity. They are simultaneously connected and disconnected to Yugoslavia and its culture. The identity crisis is especially apparent in the phenomenon of Turbo Culture, in which Yugoslavian architecture, public sculpture and cultural assets have been rapidly replaced by non-local structures. Thus, Turbo Culture erected monuments of Bill Clinton as well as Hollywood figures like Rocky Balboa in the former Yugoslavia. In her art, Domanović deals with these aspects of the disconnected and the absent. She sees her art as a means of pointing out this identity crisis marked by absence and dis:connectivity. Meha Priyadarshini then spoke about Fashion and its absent histories: the case of Madras fabric in the Caribbean. She notes aspects of absence in the history of Madras fabric, which colonial powers exported from India to Euro-American and African-diasporic markets. The importers never reflected on its foreign cultural heritage and traditional Indian origins. Madras fabric, with its specific colour and pattern, revolutionised the fashion industry but is dis:connected from its origins. To this day, the fashion industry is largely unaware of the origins of Madras textiles and profits uncritically from other cultures. The research of Madras fabric is complicated by this absence and dis:connectivity. No original Madras fabric has survived. Methodologically, Priyandarshini addressed this absence of historical consciousness through the open-access textile research project Subaltern Histories of Global Textiles: Connecting Collections. So, it is one aim to regrow historical connection of Madras textile to its origins, which could draw attention beyond academia to what patterns we wear our shirts and skirts. The first panel ended with the artist lecture by Parastou Forouhar and Cathrine Bublatzky. Bublatzky provided the theoretical framework and led the talk with her questions. Forouhar’s art deals with the absence and deracination of home. Her artwork Butterflies (2008) shows a butterfly collection, with each butterfly representing memories of her native Iran. The poetic encoding of memories of a changed homeland can thus be understood as an artistic method of facing absence and dis:connectivity. In her installation Written Rooms, Forouhar writes illegible Farsi texts with which Iranians are connected and disconnected at the same time; they are in familiar script but illegible nonetheless. The absences and dis:connectivity in relation to one's homeland thus become clear. Her art is a method of facing and experiencing absences and dis:connectivity. Sujit Sivasundaram opened the second panel on detours. He talked about Detours in the history of Islam in the Indian Ocean: Muslim Colombo. Originally a Muslim port city, Colombo has been a junction of cultural and economic connections for centuries. In such a globally connected city, the Muslim minority has been repressed, and their history has been erased since colonial occupation. Sivasundaram chose detours as a method of coming to terms with this marginalisation. Through the detour of material remains, such as architecture, clothes and artefacts, he explored the lives of minorities. The Colombo Grand Mosque served to demonstrate his method. Detour, as a methodological supplement, yields insights into dis:connectivity. Kerstin Schankweiler spoke about Global contexts of art in the GDR, in which detours played a decisive role. The German Democratic Republic (i.e. East Germany), where mobility was strongly controlled, opened up culturally to its so-called ‘brother nations’ via the detour of socialist internationalism. Bureaucracy and regulations extended this ideologically conditioned detour. Mail art, which overcame the Iron Curtain via the postal service, also dealt with dis:connectivity through postal diversions. The artistic relics of socialist internationalism and mail art depict detours as a way of dealing with dis: connectivity in the history of the GDR and in German-German history. Promona Sengupta talked about Time travel for all: decolonising the time-space continuum. She understands the idea of space that can be traversed and conquered as a colonial concept that shapes today's understanding. Similarly, Sengupta understands the linear concept of time as a colonial idea that supports capitalist productivity and is thus kept alive. These concepts lead to estrangement from the natural flow of space and time through colonialism and capitalism. New methods are needed to overcome them, methods that allow a non-capitalistic and non-colonial approach to space and time. Time travel, which reverses such understandings of time and space, is one example. In her conclusion, Sengupta recommended methods that question all-embracing concepts and open research to new perspectives. The lecture Rethinking urban materiality: time as a resource by Anupama Kundoo opened the third panel on the topic of interruptions. Her presentation revealed the interruptions in industrialisation, which replaced hitherto dominant local building traditions in local economies with local materials, with foreign experts and materials. Such changes actually reduce efficiency in many cases and uproot people from their buildings. Indeed, the building becomes a consumer in the global economy. She concluded by arguing for local industries and economies to create efficient architecture. Valeska Huber presented a paper entitled ´The Limits of my Language mean the Limits of my World´: language barriers and ideas of global communication in the 1920s, in which she reflected critically on English as a global lingua franca and thought about more inclusive alternatives to overcome linguistic barriers in global communication. Huber introduced the Vienna Circle of the 1920s, in which Maria and Otto Neurath, among others, developed Isotype, a pictorial language that is supposed to function across cultures and languages. Marie Neurath’s own projects were primarily responsible for Isotype’s global dissemination. Huber proposed that extending this idea could disrupt the Anglosphere and lead to more inclusive global communication and research. Thus, interruptions and dis:connectivity in global communication could be overcome. Peter W. Marx closed the panel by addressing The elephant in the room: (dis:)connecting encounters in the early modern period. Marx established dis:connectivity as the proverbial elephant in the room of global history studies. This was followed by a genealogy of the presence of elephants (and how it was documented by contemporary artists) in northern Europe from the Middle Ages to the early modern period. Marx’s genealogy showed historical interruptions and connections in the complex discourse around the elephants. From humanisation and fantasy to a symbol of power and violence, the discourse around elephants in Europe has also represented transcultural military and dialogical contact since Hannibal. Fabienne Liptay closed the conference with a screening of Atlantiques (2009, Mati Diop) and Atlantique (2019, Mati Diop). Across an interval of 10 years, the films deal with the topic of migration from Senegal across the Mediterranean to Europe. Characters meet their fates in transit. They are uprooted from their homeland and at the same time bound to it. Dis:connectivity is not just an abstract research topic, but it touches people's lives directly and concretely.  
The global dis:connect team.
The speakers introduced new perspectives on dis:connective research on globalisation, including some methodological suggestions and approaches. Artistic practice uncovered dis:connectivity in several aspects, making it tangible and offering ways to deal with it. On a theoretical level, several participants emphasised the importance of critical reflection on one's own perspective and situatedness as a researcher. There were also proposals without a ripe, ready method, but set out demands, priorities and innovations for a methodology of global dis:connectivity. Indeed, this could be an initial step towards more developed methods. The ‘elephant in the room’ was certainly methodology. The dialogue and interplay between art and research invigorated the conference, resulting in a special climate of interdisciplinarity and multi-perspectivity. Minds open to novelty and awareness of the lack of a full-fledged methodology are a fine basis for further research. Facing this elephant in the room was perhaps one of the main achievements of the conference.   Continue Reading

A conversation with Tom Menger about colonial warfare: ‘There were great similarities between the empires’

This interview originally appeared in Einsichten, a journal about research being conducted at the LMU. We are grateful for their permission to repost it.
Germans often have a romanticised picture of the country’s colonial past. Many are unaware how brutal German colonial rule was, and many do not know that there were close ties between the colonial powers when it came to violence. Knowing this side of colonial history is important for how we shape the present, says historian Tom Menger. There are tour operators that advertise trips to Namibia – former German South West Africa – with slogans such as ‘Like vacationing at home, only more beautiful’ or ‘Nostalgic cities with a strong German flavour’. Was there something romantic about German colonialism? Menger: Not at all, I would say. Although this image does exist, it has little to do with reality. It was after the First World War in particular that the romanticisation of German colonialism took off. Maybe Germany losing its colonies in the First World War was part of the reason why Germans began to cultivate a romantic, nostalgic image of it. But the fact is that colonialism was always very strongly characterised by violence, sometimes by massive violence. What kind of violence? Menger: There were very many forms of violence. There was everyday violence, so to speak, such as the whippings to which workers on plantations were subjected. There was forced labour and so-called ‘punitive expeditions’. There were military campaigns, such as the German suppression of African resistance during the Maji Maji Rebellion in German East Africa, modern-day Tanzania. In this regard, I would highlight a form of violence that most people tend not to think of when it comes to colonialism: hunger wars  and devastation – the massive and systematic destruction of villages and fields, of harvests and food supplies. These were attempts to strip resisting populations of their means of subsistence as a way of eliminating their ability to resist. Were the methods employed in such colonial wars different than those practiced in conflicts in Europe? Menger: Definitely. In addition to the hunger wars  and devastation, there were massacres that were typical of many colonial wars. People were kidnapped, including women and children – it was common for whole villages to be taken away and interned. Sexual violence was often an everyday feature of war. And there was extreme violence as a sort of spectacle: mutilation, beheadings, displaying the bodies of the killed. This was designed to send a message to others.
Seeking to learn from other empires: the German colonial officer Glauning translated into German this British manual for military expeditions in Africa.

How to burn down a village

What was this message that the violence was meant to communicate? Menger: It was about demonstrating one’s superiority to the enemy, and it was conceptualised in baldly racist terms. In English it was called the ‘moral effect’, and it was one of the points discussed in the handbooks of colonial warfare. Concepts such as the ‘laws of war’ have been around for a long time. Did the colonial powers knowingly violate this law? Menger: We’re talking about a time when Europeans did in fact attempt to lay down rules of war. Work on the Geneva Convention began in 1864, while the Hague Conventions go back to 1899. The guiding principle behind these regulations was that the civilian population should be protected, and armies should attack only the opposing army. So there was already a relatively clear sense of what was legitimate and honourable in war and what was not. This does not mean that European wars in this period weren’t destructive. But some things that were frowned upon in Europe were common practice in colonial wars. There was the notion that you fight a different kind of war against people seen as ‘savages’, for whom the rules of war need not apply. Were there really manuals on how to conduct war in the colonies? Menger: Yes, such handbooks were usually penned by the practitioners of colonial war; that is to say, veterans with long experience of this kind of war. They wrote about all sorts of things connected with war: from logistics to actual combat, about tactics and strategy. The manuals also contained practical guides to things like the best way to burn down a village. Really? Menger: Yes. Some manuals  described which parts of a village tended to burn better than others. They recommended setting fire to the roof first when burning a hut. And that you should check which way the wind is blowing. And how to make sure you don’t end up standing in the middle of a burning village with no way out. All these things were candidly described in these manuals. These manuals have been around for over 100 years. Haven’t they been exhaustively studied already? Menger: Interestingly, no. Scholars have analysed some of them, but in their full breadth they have long remained unexplored. They are actually a very rich source for research into colonial violence.

Wissmann‘s famous colonial handbook, published 1895. Already on its first page, it recommended its readers to study the British colonial wars.
The era of colonialism was also an era of nationalism, where the countries of Europe sought to differentiate themselves from each other and highlight their distinctiveness. Were Germany, Britain, or France any different from other colonial nations in their conduct of war? Menger: Precisely this question is at the heart of my investigation. The answer is that there are great similarities in terms of warfare. The main differences come at the level of rhetoric, as the colonial powers strove to create a flattering self-image. Did the colonial powers share the same ideologies? Menger: They certainly shared the same racist attitudes. And springing from this, they had the same conception of how to treat their colonial subjects. Moreover, the exchange of information between colonial nations on subjects like warfare was important. In the early days of German colonial rule in the 1880s, for example, there were people like Hermann von Wissmann, who founded and moulded the colonial army in German East Africa, the largest of the German colonies. Wissmann had previously acquired experience in the service of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo. Incidentally, the Belgian Congo, as the colony later came to be called, is something of a misnomer, as British, French, and Dutch and other actors also played roles there. Colonial rule was always a very transnational enterprise. The historians Jonas Kreienbaum from the University of Rostock and Christoph Kamissek use the term ‘imperial cloud’ in this context. It describes the phenomenon very nicely, I think. ‘Cloud’ as in the internet cloud? But 130 years ago? Menger: It’s about the metaphorical idea that there is a knowledge base that can be accessed in a certain way from various empires. It is not limited to national borders. Although it’s often unclear where, by whom, and when this knowledge is accessed, it’s there and it spreads, like in the online cloud. Many people know precious little about the violence Germany exercised as a colonial power. Is that a problem? Why should people engage with the subject? Menger: It’s a phenomenon that helped shape the present. Our world of nation states and our global dependency dynamics. Understanding this legacy is a positive thing. If we accept that a culture of remembrance is valuable because we want to live in a democratic civil society, then it’s important to engage with our own history – including injustices that were committed in the past. This is something Germany has done quite successfully with the history of the Third Reich. And I think it’s worthwhile to come to terms with colonial injustices as well. Furthermore, there are growing numbers of people living in Germany for whom the violence of the colonial past is not something they can just ignore. For many immigrants – from Africa, for example – it is part of their own history, or at least the history of their ancestors. In this context, too, it’s important to have a shared culture of remembrance. There are some people who think that German historians and politicians have focused quite enough on violence during the Nazi dictatorship. Won’t people switch off if we start focusing on violence in the German colonial period as well? Menger: I’ve no doubt that there will be resistance. But it's not a valid argument, I think, to say that we’ve faced up to the Nazi period, so now we’re done. After all, when a society has successfully come to grips with one era of history, why should it not do the same for other periods?
citation information:
Menger, Tom. ‘A Conversation with Tom Menger about Colonial Warfare: “There Were Great Similarities between the Empires”’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 3 July 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/03/07/a-conversation-with-tom-menger-about-colonial-warfare-there-were-great-similarities-between-the-empires/.
                          Continue Reading

Seemingly built, suddenly ruined: decolonisation and dis:connectivity in post-colonial Guinea-Bissau 1973-1983

lucas rehnman[1]
 
Here everything seems that was still under construction and it is suddenly ruin.
-Caetano Veloso Che Guevara once stated that Africa was ‘imperialism’s weak link’[2] with enormous revolutionary potential. Indeed, liberation wars and decolonisation processes on the continent enabled the Western and Eastern blocs to perceive some regions and geopolitical conditions as opportunities to expand their influence. The most famous conflicts in Africa during the Cold War, direct results of the logics of proxy war, exemplify this: the Congo Crisis, the Angolan Civil War and the South African Border War. Amidst this allegedly cold clash between the two blocs, an often-forgotten third force emerged, the Non-Aligned Movement, created by the pioneering efforts of Tito (former Yugoslavia), Nkrumah (Ghana), Sukarno (Indonesia), Nasser (Egypt) and Nehru (India). This paper departs from the ‘forgotten’ legacies of the Third World[3] and its practices of solidarity, delving into the phenomenon of Yugoslavian technical cooperation as a vehicle for its soft diplomacy towards Africa. I consider the Yugoslav-African entanglement by focusing on expertise, transnational networks, Cold War geopolitics and Non-Aligned cooperation, which allows me to draw on ‘the connections and exchanges, on the back and forth of people, ideas, and things across boundaries’[4], from ‘macro’ to ‘micro’ and back again. A key macro-concept here is peripheral modernity,[5] which refers to all Global South, Second and Third World nations during the Cold War. I focus on Guinea-Bissau from 1973-1983, analysing its modern architecture and public sculpture in terms of the conditions of its emergence, its aesthetic-symbolic meanings and its deterioration. In post-independence Africa, following the modernist credo, construction and infrastructure became key means through which these young nations addressed social problems and expressed their national identities.[6] Guinea-Bissau was no different. Given that history is ‘inscribed’ in architecture and public art, they are suitable entrances to study and access the complexities, difficulties, contradictions and dilemmas this country experienced from 1963 (the year of the beginning of the armed struggle for independence) to 1983 (the approximate date of the complete dissolution of the socialist project and the subsequent economic liberalisation). I aim to challenge the narrative insisting that former colonies in Africa, once postcolonial, became merely the passive recipients of technical, architectural and cultural knowledge. Despite being an extremely young, sovereign country that has also suffered coups and civil war, Guinea-Bissau developed its own modernity. However, its post-colonial modernist architecture has received little attention.[7] Is this because modern buildings there ‘are often the result of isolated acts and do not correspond to the development of any architectural culture with local roots’,[8] as Ana Vaz Milheiro has sustained, implying that they are nothing more than isolated cases? Manoel Herz implies the same: ‘We consciously decided not to document the former Portuguese colonies as their independence took place in the mid-1970s and was mostly characterized by bitter conflict and long wars that overshadowed any kind of national development’.[9] He continues, stating that ‘while examples of Late Modernist architecture certainly exist in Lusophone Africa […] they were built entirely during the colonial era without preempting the intention of decolonization’.[10] In the next section, I reveal the falsity of these last three claims with reference to a Yugoslavian-influenced modernist architectural legacy in Guinea-Bissau that flourished – and deteriorated – very rapidly. Beyond the undisputable but overlooked Yugoslavian influence and the simplistic corollaries of ‘architectural export’ and ‘knowledge transfer’, could Bissau-Guineans have played an active and decisive role in establishing a modern architectural legacy in their country between 1973 to 1983?

Decolonisation and dis:connectivity

After its independence from Portugal, between 1974 and 1980, Guinea-Bissau experienced a short-lived socialist period led by Luís Cabral, the brother of anti-colonial revolutionary leader Amílcar Cabral. The construction of a national identity with a pan-African and universal conscience as well as the concept of a ‘New Man’, one of Amilcar Cabral's key concerns, had to be implemented in diverse areas of cultural, social and political life. Education,[11] cinema[12] and music[13] were able to thrive alongside monument-making and architecture. In hindsight, though, the period is symptomatic of the postcolonial condition. The Portuguese hardly developed any industry in the territory during colonial times, having focused instead on extraction.[14] Besides, the country had only four professionals formally trained in architecture and construction[15]. The conditions for national development, thus, were unfavourable and could be (partially) counteracted only through international aid and technical cooperation brought forth by Third World solidarity. Yugoslavia, Cuba and especially the Soviet Union played key roles. A number of Bissau-Guineans also were granted scholarships to study abroad, which were mainly offered by socialist European countries (image 1).[16]
Image 1: Total of students from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) who concluded their studies abroad between 1963-1975. Data gathered by Sonja Borges, Militant Education, Liberation Struggle, Consciousness.The PAIGC Education in Guinea Bissau 1963-1978 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2019),99.
Image 2: African scholarship holders in Slovenia (trip to Velenje), 1963. From the photo collection of the Museum of Yugoslav History.
Thus, ‘modernism’ pervaded new contexts in the name of ‘knowledge transfer, overseas aid and new forms of cooperation’[17] and through gift-giving, credit and barter.[18] Yet, the idea of mere ‘export’ is misleading. ‘Modernism’ is not exclusive to Western powers. Third World countries have developed their own modernities with a considerable degree of autonomy. The neglect of these modernities and fair assessments of their autonomy highlight the problem of coloniality in the act of making biased history – and even to (induced) oblivion as a convenient political project. Considering Guinea-Bissau, three understudied historical figures are relevant to my argument: Alberto ‘Tino’ Lima Gomes, the first Minister of Public Works[19] and a local who studied architecture and engineering in Yugoslavia on scholarship;[20] his wife, Yugoslavian architect Milanka Lima Gomes, who designed a number of buildings and public monuments as a naturalised Bissau-Guinean; and Nikola Arsenić,[21] a Yugoslavian architect who worked under a long-term technical cooperation agreement and was very prolific while living there. I won’t analyse all their buildings. The point is, rather, to infer a ‘forgotten’ legacy from a selection.
Image 3: Memorial building for the unilateral declaration of independence of Guinea-Bissau on 24th September 1973, Lugadjol, east of Boé.
One of these notable constructions is the memorial building for the unilateral declaration of independence (image 3), planned and coordinated by both Alberto and Milanka Lima Gomes, consisting of a functional rotunda[22]with a vernacular thatched roof made from cibe palm trees (borassus aethiopum), bamboo and straw, it was built to officialise the unilateral declaration of independence. This event was celebrated on top of the hill near Lugadjol on 24 September 1973.[23] The construction occurred during the rainy season, against the odds, and was completed in less than three months. Apart from the practicality that the vernacular roof offered under those challenging conditions, there is another layer to consider, that of an aesthetic statement: hybridism. This is much less evident – or practically absent – in the buildings and sculptures yet to be discussed, but I’ll address that question later.
Image 4: Luís Cabral’s house in Bubaque island. State-funded and designed by Milanka Lima Gomes (1976) and Nikola Arsenić (1978). Still from © The Vanished Dream 2016
Surely more ambitious and formally inventive is the former presidential residence, which is located on Bubaque Island in the Bijagós archipelago and is now falling into ruin (image 4). Despite its deceivingly brutalist appearance, the concrete structure was originally painted white and was covered by bituminous sheets. This body of architectural work here presented can be seen as a creative ingestion and digestion of foreign architecture, meaning that not only a mere borrowing of white modernist forms and solutions took place, but that a local appropriation, interpretation and transformation of the modernist vocabulary also occurred, amounting to an original, hybrid architecture worth documenting and preserving.
Image 5: RTP África building / Namintchit restaurant, Bissau, 1976. Designed by Nikola Arsenić. Photo by © M.M. Jones ( instagram: @Bauzeitgeist ), November 2018
Except for the memorial building (image 3), there is nothing in these structures that makes them unmistakably ‘African’, I admit, but aesthetically, they clearly reflect pan-Africanism and Non-Aligned modernity. This, in itself, in a former Portuguese colony, already makes them original. Contradicting Manoel Herz, they were not built in the colonial era and do preempt and reflect ‘the intention of decolonization’. Compared with Ghana’s architecture of 1961-1970 (a country that, by the way, also received Yugoslav architects under technical cooperation agreement), their affinities and autonomous character become evident: a mix of ‘Eastern European modernism’,[24] ‘tropical architecture’ and vernacular elements, ‘they cannot be reduced to a sum of European ‘modernisms’.[25]
Image 6: Summit buildings ("cimeira"), Bissau, 1979, today partially in ruins. State-funded and designed by Nikola Arsenić; supervision: Armando Napoko; decoration: Maria Aura Troçolo; coordination: Milanka Lima Gomes. Still from © The Vanished Dream 2016.
 

Image 7: Monument for the Martyrs of the Pidjiguiti Massacre, known as Mon di Timba (‘the fist of Timba’), a public sculpture located in the country’s capital, Bissau, state-funded and designed by Nikola Arsenić (1975-1978). Building technique: reinforced concrete covered with slate sheets. Still from © Memória / Calling Cabral, directed by Welket Bungué.
The public sculptures, on the other hand, are, visually speaking, ostensibly ‘Yugoslavian’ and do not reference the rich and diverse local arts of Guinea-Bissau in any way (image 7). Nationalists deployed modern European aesthetics to represent emancipation: a paradox?[26] From an art-theoretical perspective, these sculptures are ‘modernist’ in the worst way; they plainly ignore their surroundings and their socio-cultural implications. In short, they do not take ‘context’ in consideration, a prerequisite of public art since the 1960s. Monuments, even more than the architecture of the period, raise the complex question of independent Africa’s hasty belief in ‘development’ and whether such belief has been beneficial to the new nations (a question that Amílcar Cabral himself, as an ‘assimilated’ local of Cape-Verdean parents, Marxist thinker and agronomist, embodied in unresolved ways).[27] If ,however, one considers the University of Ife, later renamed Obafemi Awolowo University, in Nigeria, in which Israeli architect Arieh Sharon attempted to marry modern architecture with an African visual vocabulary to the verge of stereotype, the abstract, pretentiously transcultural Yugoslavian design is arguably preferable, since it does not fall into the trap of white appropriation of another culture. Bissau-Guinean architecture and public sculpture discussed here are thus more honest. Mojca Smode Cvitanović wrote that Non-Aligned mutual cooperation ‘lost its enthusiasm’ from the early 1970s onwards,[28] though Guinea-Bissau appears to be an exception. In 1979, Fidel Castro became the new chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Tito died a year later. The movement’s credibility decreased during the 1980s, coinciding with a successful coup in Guinea-Bissau. With the end of socialism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, the definition of ‘non-alignment’ finally changed entirely. Canonical architectural historiography, however, didn’t fully catch up with either Yugoslav or African architecture – an oversight that reveals an unfortunate prolongation of Cold War logics long after its end.[29]

Conclusion

Image 8: Commemorative stamp with Amílcar Cabral’s mausoleum represented, a monument located in Fortaleza de São José da Amura, Bissau, state-funded and designed by Zoran Jovanović, built in 1977.
Modernist practices from 1973-1983 were decidedly not merely ‘a projection from outside’. On the contrary, the rapid (even if fragile) consolidation of modernism in Guinea-Bissau has been a process where locals have worked actively to make themselves modern, instead of merely being made modern by outside forces. The principal actor coordinating all the construction projects in the country during the period was Bissau-Guinean-born, the Minister of Public Works Alberto ‘Tino’ Lima Gomes. The Yugoslav fundamental participation notwithstanding, local agency was decisive and shouldn’t be overlooked. Now, what unspent fuel remains from the anti-colonial struggle and the early post-independence days to be reignited today? Or, more modestly and realistically: how can scholarly work and intellectual engagement counteract oblivion as a convenient political project? Because pan-African, socialist and Third World dreams, visions and abandoned projects might have a contemporary ‘utility’ or usefulness; they can be unearthed to be remembered, retold, reclaimed, redreamed and thus inform our political imagination. As it was shown, the unfulfilled promises of the 1973-1983 period are aesthetically latent in the ambivalent documents of the era, be they buildings, memorials or propaganda. Simultaneously ‘cultural’ and ‘barbaric’, it falls on posterity not to allow the latter to prevail.     [1] The author would like to thank Ben Kamis , Nikolai Brandes, Anna Sophia Nübling, Welket Bungué, Milanka Lima Gomes, Nikola Arsenić (the son), Radovan Cukić, Matthew Jones, Juan Betancor, Lars Rudebeck, Doreen Mende, Viviane Letayf and Geraldo Pina. [2] Ahmed Ben Bella, ‘Che as I Knew Him’, Le Monde Diplomatique, October 1997, https://mondediplo.com/1997/10/che. [3] According to Duanfang Lu, ‘compared with other alternative phrases such as “developing countries”, “less developed countries”, “non-industrialized countries”, and “the South”, the Third World is more than merely a socio-economic designation. It has come to represent a forceful ideology, a meaningful rallying point, a widely shared mentality, and a unique source of identity. The phrase has proven rhetorically, politically, and theoretically effective. Despite the end of the Cold War, the term “Third World” remains viable in contemporary geopolitical vocabulary, as seen in leading scholarly journals such as Third World Quarterly and Journal of Third World Studies’ Lu Duanfang, Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity (London: Routledge, 2010), 19, 20. [4] In: Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History? (Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016), 42. [5] See my ongoing curatorial project: https://ifddr.org/en/cooperations/unvollendetes_museum/ [6] Perhaps the best example is the case of Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah. An important influence on Amílcar Cabral’s thinking even, Nkrumah’s modernity sought to redefine African subjectivity, prioritising African unity over ethnic division. [7] A commendable survey can be found in: Phillip Meuser and Adil Dalbai, ‘Guinea-Bissau’, Architectual Guide. Sub-Saharan Africa. Western Africa. Along the Atlantic Ocean Coast 3 (2021): 12–67, but it’s the only one of its kind and far from exhaustive. [8] Full quote here: ‘Modern buildings in these three African provinces [Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe] are often the result of isolated acts and do not correspond to the development of any architectural culture with local roots’ In: Milheiro Ana, ‘Resisting Modernity: Colonization and Public Works. Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe’, in Ilha de São Jorge, ed. Paula Nascimento and Stefano Pansera (Beyond Entropy Books, 2014), 178. [9] In: Manuel Herz, ed., African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia (Zürich: Park Books, 2015). [10] In: Herz. [11] Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, for example, was consulted by Guinea-Bissau’s first independent government on how to optimise the processes of attaining literacy on a national scale, among other complex dilemmas. See: Sérgio Haddad, O Educador: Um Perfil de Paulo Freire (São Paulo: Todavia, 2019); See also: Paulo Freire, Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) See also Augusta Henriques, an important educator and follower of Paulo Freire’s methods: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusta_Henriques. [12] Already in 1967, Amílcar Cabral sent four young Bissau-Guineans to Cuba to study cinema at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), namely José Cobumba Bolama, Josefina Crato, Sana Na N’Hada and Flora Gomes, who studied under Santiago Álvarez, a fact that reveals Cabral’s vision for national cinema. Sana Na N’Hada completed his important film O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral in 1976. More on Guinea-Bissau’s audiovisual production since independence, see: Cunha Paulo and Catarina Laranjeiro, ‘Guiné-Bissau: Do Cinema de Estado Ao Cinema Fora Do Estado’, Rebeca - Revista Brasileira De Estudos De Cinema e Audiovisual 5, no. 2 (2017). [13] Good examples include José Carlos Schwarz and the band Super Mama Djombo. Bissau-born poet and musician José Carlos Schwarz (1949-1977) was politically active and even joined the resistance. He was imprisoned for his participation in the struggle for independence. Following independence in 1974, Schwarz became the director of the Department for Art and Culture and became responsible for Guinea-Bissau’s youth policy. Super Mama Djombo was a band from Guinea Bissau, formed in the mid-1960s. They would often play at President Luís Cabral’s public speeches, and their concerts were broadcast on live radio. In 1980, Luís Cabral was ousted, and the new regime under Nino Vieira no longer supported the band. They had fewer opportunities to perform and broke up in 1986. [14] ‘Industry in [Portuguese Guinea] was particularly underdeveloped: some factories for rice peeling, some for the extraction of fish oil and peanut oil, a few ice factories and small workshops for automobile repair, locksmiths and wood cutting, as well as distilleries for alcoholic beverages. There were no industrial companies owned by the colonizers for the exploitation of land or natural wealth: the colony’s large economic share was based on native agriculture, the acquisition of its surpluses and the organisation of internal and external trade. The level of industrialisation was close to zero, as was its economic value’. (my translation) In: Cátia Teixeira and Maria Augusta Tavares, ‘Guiné-Bissau: O Presente Lança Luz Sobre o Passado’, Diálogos Magazine, no. 3 (2013): 869–908. [15] Original quote here: ‘O primeiro período [1974-1983] é característico, porque o país, praticamente durante 10 anos, teve apenas quatro quadros formados em arquitectura e construção civil.’ In: Milanka L. Gomes, ‘Reconstrução Nacional e Balanço Das Principais Ações Realizadas Entre 1974 e 1996 Na Guiné-Bissau Bissau’ (CIALP conference intervention, 1996), Private Document. [16] In: Sonja Borges, Militant Education, Liberation Struggle, Consciousness.The PAIGC Education in Guinea Bissau 1963-1978 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2019), 98, 99. [17] In: Duanfang, Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity, 26. [18] In: Łukasz Stanek, ‘Gift, Credit, Barter: Architectural Mobilities in Global Socialism’, Archive and Editorial Project, E-Flux Architecture (blog), 2020, https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/housing/337850/gift-credit-barter-architectural-mobilities-in-global-socialism/. [19] In: ‘Boletim Oficial Da República Da Guiné-Bissau, Numero 40’, 11 October 1978, Fundação Mário Soares, Arquivo Mário Pinto de Andrade, http://www.casacomum.org/cc/visualizador?pasta=10249.003. [20] He went to Yugoslavia to study through a scholarship support and returned with heavy luggage and an engineer/architect diploma after independence.’ (my translation). In: Graça Tabanca Graca Luís, ‘Caderno de Notas de Um Mais Velho’, Blog, Luís Graça & Camaradas Da Guiné (blog), 9 November 2016, https://blogueforanadaevaotres.blogspot.com/2016/11/guine-6374-p16700-caderno-de-notas-de.html. [21] See Nikola Arsenić’s short bio in: The Vanished Dream (Siddhartha Films, 2016), http://thevanisheddream.com/category/cast/. [22] Interestingly, according to Geraldo Pina, “in Guinea-Bissau, circular houses have often been regarded as representative habitat of the native population.” In: Meuser and Dalbai, ‘Guinea-Bissau’, 26. [23] Recognition became universal following the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal. For a brief description of the unilateral declaration’s ceremony, see my own text: Lucas Rehnman, ‘Amílcar Cabral d’après l’art Conceptuel or The Liberation Struggle as Conceptual Art’, The Whole Life, 24 March 2022, https://wholelife.hkw.de/amilcar-cabral-dapres-lart-conceptuel-or-the-liberation-struggle-as-conceptual-art/#footnote13. [24] It would be false to speak of ‘“socialist modernism’”, because ‘“alleging a certain formal or visual essence of “socialist modernism” makes just as much sense as trying to identify inherent aesthetic features of a “capitalist modernism”, a label that no one but the most hardened socialist realist critic would take seriously, because it too broadly equates cultural and political categories’.” Vladimir Kulić, Wolfgang Thaler, and Maroje Mrduljas, eds., Modernism In-Between: The Mediatory Architectures of Socialist Yugoslavia (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2012), 17. [25] In: Łukasz Stanek, ‘Architects from Socialist Countries in Ghana (1957–67): Modern Architecture and Mondialisation’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 74, no. 4 (December 2015): 416–42. [26] Full quote here: ‘Only in postcolonial history writing is agency sometimes attributed to Africans, but, even then, typically only to nationalists who, paradoxically, deployed a modern European architecture to represent emancipation.’ In: Ikem Okoye, ‘Where Was Not Modernism?’, CCA Articles, n.d., https://www.cca.qc.ca/en/articles/77238/where-was-not-modernism. [27] Regimes in the new African nations adopted the Enlightenment’s scientific heritage without any discussions of its cultural implications. This was problematic […] as the ‘machine was not neutral’. It could also be added that this was not only the case with the scientific heritage, but applied equally to the artistic heritage as well.’ In: Bojana Piškur, Southern Constellations: The Poetics of the Non-Aligned (Ljubljana: Moderna galerija, 2019), 16 and Piškur specifies the meaning of ‘machine’ as follows: ‘Machine as one of the instruments of cultural transformation that was brought to a space whose own cultural history had not prepared them for this new device’ a. And: ‘Colonialism brought the machine into spaces whose own cultural history had not prepared them for this new device, and besides, the machine and mechanization had been one of the instruments of cultural transformation. A machine is imbued with cultural forms; the tractor, for example, changes the relationship of farmers to their fields, each other, and the place of the plough in their cosmological world. The tractor would not leave […] social relations unchanged. […] The bulk of the social order inhabited the machine and grew around it’; In: Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2007). [28] Full quote here: ‘The need for foreign personnel in developing countries was most stressing right after their independence, which was regularly and effectively accommodated by Yugoslavia, in line with its own political interests. The change in trends of technical cooperation, however, occurred in the early 1970s as a result of the events on both sides. In Yugoslavia, the living standard improved. The developing world, on the other hand, suffered a number of political and economic crises causing social instability. The generational shift and decentralization of Yugoslavia further weakened the integrity of the non-alignment policy, which lost its enthusiasm, proved to be less pragmatic than expected. This redirected technical cooperation towards partners who were able to secure economically and socially stable conditions for assignments.’ In: Smode Cvitanović, ‘Tracing the Non-Aligned Architecture: Environments of Technical Cooperation and the Work of Croatian Architects in Kumasi, Ghana (1961-1970)’, Histories of Postwar Architecture 3, no. 6 (2020): 34–67. [29] Full quote here: ‘Eastern European architecture as a whole has largely been left out of the discipline’s modern canonical history, an oversight that not only underscores an ongoing Eurocentric (Western) bias, but also reflects the prolongation of the cultural logic of the Cold War long after its end’. In: M. Stierli and Vladimir Kulić, Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018).    
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citation information:
Rehnman, Lucas. ‘Seemingly Built, Suddenly Ruined: Decolonisation and Dis:Connectivity in Post-Colonial Guinea-Bissau 1973-1983’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 21 February 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/02/21/seemingly-built-suddenly-ruined-decolonisation-and-disconnectivity-in-post-colonial-guinea-bissau-1973-1983/.
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