EXHIBITION

"Objects of Knowledge. Reflections on Anthropological Ways of Seeing"


8 November 201422 February 2015
GRASSI Museum of Ethnography in Leipzig
Opening Hours: daily between 10am and 6pm, closed on Mondays.

  D3 6265 800

Old things displayed in new ways provoke us to see them through fresh eyes. The forthcoming exhibition "Objects of Knowledge. Reflections on Anthropological Ways of Seeing" opens up debates about the past and the future of anthropological collections by showing ethnographic objects from around the world in unusual constellations. Through provocative displays, it invites visitors to sensually engage with the products of human creativity, and prompts reflections on typical ways of seeing and understanding.


How do anthropologists address objects? Which questions do they direct at them and which answers do they get? The exhibition experiments with a series of object arrangements to consider these issues. By contextualizing and re-contextualizing objects, the display explores different aspects of their biographies. The installations demonstrate how the neighborhood of other objects impacts on the meaning of things, and it explores the narratives that emerge through particular ways of sorting and exhibiting.


Two fundamentally opposing principles organize the layout. In the first room, a variety of similar objects are sorted according to typical anthropological categories such as form, function and geographic origin. The juxtaposition of a huge number of comparable objects creates fascinating insights into the unity and difference of global material culture. It reflects more broadly on theories about the tension between the unity of humankind and the varieties of cultural expressions. The second room shows a few select valuable objects. They stand alone and invite the visitor to engage with their power and to consume them in an aesthetic manner. At some distance from the art pieces the visitor encounters other matters, texts, and narratives. They contextualize these objects and elaborate their roles as ritual matters and commodities, stolen objects and memorabilia, identity markers and mediums of dispute.


Taken together, the exhibition articulates numerous tensions, for example, between abundance and emptiness, art and culture, unity and difference, order and disorder, silence and liveliness. The opposites demarcate fields that structure the reception of culture – both in popular and academic discourse.


The exhibition marks the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Institute of Anthropology (founded as Institut für Völkerkunde) at the University in Leipzig. Its first director, Karl Weule, was also director of the GRASSI Museum of Anthropology in Leipzig and made important contributions towards the professionalization of anthropology in Germany. His passion was material culture. His approach shapes some of the exhibition's key questions: How could the academic discipline of anthropology and its theories help sort and understand the many objects collected from around the world? And what could we learn from the systematic study of these objects about other cultures and the human condition?


The exhibition takes up this spirit of cooperation between the University discipline and the Museum. It is organized as collaboration between the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (State Art Collections Dresden), the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig (GRASSI Museum of Ethnography) and the Institute of Anthropology of the University of Leipzig. It brings together different knowledge traditions and thus reflects current debates relevant to both academia and museums: the meaning of material culture; the link between art and ethnography; practices of collecting and displaying and global power relations.

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