Since 2002 I have been compiling a databank entitled "Feather Ornaments of the Amazon" with object and field photos, documenting the collections and relevant literature. Currently this database comprises - either the whole or in part - the collections from 55 European and two Brazilian museums (totaling approximately 15,000 objects). A common vocabulary enables searches by ethnicity, object type, collector, material, etc.
This databank is a resource for scientific articles and has been used in several joint projects with museums, in particular relating to object and material analysis, recording and checking the descriptions of objects and exhibition texts, researching how the feather ornaments were worn in order to present them correctly in exhibition rooms, for exhibit cases and the general organisation of exhibitions:
- 2014 Lecture Symposium Musée du Quai Branly;
- 2013 Musée de Chambéry: Object descriptions of Munduruku feather ornaments;
- 2011/12 Exhibition "Schädelkult" in Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums Mannheim, Curator for the sections "Amazon" and "Africa". More.
From 2008 to 2012 the following museum collections were partially inventoried, i.e. the objects were photographed and the relevant publications partly or totally digitalised:-
- African figures and masks from Göttingen University's ethnological collection (2008);
- African figures from the Ethnological Museum, Berlin (2008);
- African and Oceanic figures and masks from the Berthoud Ethnological Museum (2008-9);
- African figures and masks from the Historical and Ethnological Museum, St Gallen (2009-10);
- African figures and masks from the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum, Mannheim (2011);
- Advice on concept and organisation for a photographic inventory of the objects in the Lübeck TheaterFigurenMuseum, a project by the Possehl-Stiftung, Lübeck. Nearly 35,000 objects have been inventoried, photographed and reclassified. More.
In 2012 I acquired about 1,600 field photographs by Luis Fernandez, an ethnologist specialising in musical instruments, who worked with the Surui, Enawene-Nawe, Erikbaktsa, Nambicuara and Mynky from 1978 to 2010. The slides have been scanned and are available for exhibitions or articles. More.
In June 2009 seven representatives of the Aruá, Djeoromitxi, Kanoé, Makurap and Tuparí communities (Anisio Aruá, Armando Djeoromitxi, Augusto Kanoé, Andere Makurap, Analisia Makurap, Dalton Tuparí and Marlene Tuparí, respectively) from Rondonia, Brazil, visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands for three weeks in order to see six museums (Basel, Berlin, Dresden, Leyden, St. Gallen and Vienna), which have objects that belonged to their ancestors before ethnologists collected them in the 1930ies and 1960ies. To finance their trip these representatives brought with them a number of objects which the museums subsequently purchased. From the Brazilian side, the project was organised by members of the FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio), an organisation attached to the Brazilian Federal Government, and by the Brazilian journalist Gleice Mere. I organised the finances, the choice of museums and the European itinerary. The organized planning for this project was worked out in cooperation with the Basel Cultural Museum and its South America curator, Alexander Brust. In practice, each individual museum had its own programme. (Two articles in German on this project : (Guapore Projekt - Teil 1 and Guapore Projekt - Teil 2)
In 2010 Anisio Aruá, Andere Makurap, Analisia Makurap, Dalton Tuparí and Marlene Tuparí invited me to visit them in the Rio Branco Terra Indigena (TI), and Armando Djeoromitxi and Augusto Kanoédans also invited me to visit them in Guapore Terra Indigena (TI). One year later a traditional festival was held in Sao Luis, a village in TI Rio Branco. Anisio Aruá had invited me there to document the preparation of the festival, in particular how the headdresses, woven mats, stools and ladles were made. Anisio is over 70 years old and is the last remaining Aruá in TI Rio Branco who still knows how to make these artefacts. He wanted to transmit this knowledge to his grandchildren via films and photos. In order to perfect the documentation of the work process, I myself learned to make these objects and, during another visit in 2013, I managed to complete certain gaps in the documentation. The films and the book relating to it will be returned to Anisio in the course of my next visit in 2015.
My work in numerous ethnological museums has become - without my planning it that way - a comparative European study. What is especially striking is that exchanges among the different museums appear not to work well at all. The desire to invent everything oneself is ever present, although it would be easier and more interesting to take up existing and working solutions. Museums are of course bureaucracies which tend to be numbed by complacency, so it would be beneficial to launch a public debate on their organisation and hierarchies.
The magazine Kunst&Kontext was mainly started to critique the work of these institutions, to present model structures and the solutions they facilitate, along with certain problems. The second, equally important reason is to provide a forum for specialists from museums and universities, as well as collectors and traders, to suggest alternative principles for dealing with artefacts from non-European cultures. In this way, the magazine hopes that scientific articles may reach a broader public.
Kunst&Kontext is produced by the "Vereinigung der Freunde Afrikanischer Kultur e.V." and appears twice a year. 1,000 copies are printed and distributed free of charge to German language ethnographic museums and libraries, and to members of the society in about seven countries.
Since 2006 I have been President of this non-profit making association founded in 1995, which had formerly been a Heidelberg discussion group comprising collectors and ethnologists around the ethnologist Hans Himmelheber and the collector Helmut Zake, in existence since 1983.
Currently we have about 150 members, mostly collectors, plus some art traders and museum workers. Most come from German speaking countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) but there are also members from Britain, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Twice yearly the association hosts conferences (lectures and guided tours) lasting two days, together with the ethnological museums. The aim is to facilitate exchanges and information-sharing among ethnologists, collectors and traders. Beginning in 2011 the association has published the magazine Kunst&Kontext .