Perilous Gestures, Talk by Henrietta Lidchi, Chief Curator, National Museum of World Cultures, The Netherlands,V&A London, 4pm, 4 February 2020

Events and Conferences

In March 2019, the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands published Return of Cultural Objects: Principles and Process which stated its intention to consider claims for return of cultural objects under three criteria, an initiative that seeks to pro-actively address the complex and entangled histories of its collections. It recognises that the four museums, now constituting the National Museum of World Cultures have a deep historic links with what was might be defined as the global ‘colonial project’. A connection that clear in its architecture, the institutional histories, the objects collected and the contribution of the varied institutions to the development of frames of knowledge and forms of representation. The initiative is designed to be open, transparent, while requiring the active making of claims.

This initiative is obviously part of the move underway across Europe (and within museums) to consider what can and should be achieved in relation to colonial collections. Considering the varied initiatives underway in the Dutch context, national historical precedents, critiques for process based policies, and highlighting different European governance structures, this presentation will seek to situate this initiative. Benefitting from current research on military collections being undertaken in the UK, it will also address the question of provenance methodologies, variously underway across Europe, many of which substantially draw from those that have been used to consider the question of spoliation. Although provenance research creates a finer grained understanding of the micro-histories of object transfer, it begs questions regarding the nature and use of evidence when questions of legality, but most particularly legitimacy, are at stake.

Henrietta Lidchi is Chief Curator at the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden, the Netherlands. Prior to working in the Netherlands she worked at the British Museum and at National Museums Scotland. Her research includes Native American art and material culture looking at collections histories and museum practices of collecting and display, as well as contemporary artistic practices. Since 2017 she has been Principal Investigator on the project Baggage and Belonging: Military Collections and the British Empire (1750-1900) at National Museums Scotland (AHRC Standard Research Grant Ref: AH/P006752/1). Her publications include: Surviving Desires: Making and Selling Jewellery in the American Southwest (British Museum/University of Oklahoma Press); Visual Currencies (National Museums Scotland Press); Imagining the Arctic (British Museum/University of Washington Press) and the forthcoming book, co-edited with Stuart Allan Dividing the Spoils: Military collections and the British Empire (Manchester University Press).

External guests joining instructions:

The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre is located on the 2nd floor.


Gilbert Provenance and Spoliation Research Seminar:

This talk is part of the Gilbert Provenance and Spoliation Research Seminar which aims to provide a regular forum for researchers from numerous disciplinary backgrounds working on provenance and spoliation issues at different museums, universities, libraries, auction houses and both governmental and non-governmental organisations across the UK.

The seminar will provide a space for the presentation of cutting-edge research and discussion of methods, resources, current trends and the increasing challenges of this dynamic and changing field.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020, 16:00 – 17:30.

Victoria & Albert Museum, Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2SL

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