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For a closet with many curious stories

Nanette Snoep
© Taylla de Paula

Dealing with collections characterized by invisibility and marked by violence is one of the main worries in the work of the Dutch curator Nanette Snoep, who runs three ethnographic museums in Saxonia (Germany) 

Erased narratives

In presenting exhibition pathways to millions of objects that are in Europe and not in their continents of origin, such as in Africa and South America, Snoep dialogues with the complexity of materials lost in history.  Raised by a Western elite in expansion, these objects derive from social mutilations, separated from meanings and have their vivacity reduced. “They were stored to present cultures in glassed box cases and in colonial categories. Many times, these are objects created by enslaved hands.”

Colonial role

Still trespassed by control, regulation, or colonialism, the collections directed by Snoep live alongside the idea of “intangible foreigners.” Be they the many bronze exemplars from Benin, or the diverse artifacts that came from Nigeria, the curator asks: “How can we tell narratives that were erased and try to give more life to these objects?”. The 21st century, according to her, represents a mined political field. The concepts absorbed throughout history, about the idea of the ethnographic museum, can no longer manage the current geopolitical context, with the circulation of people, objects, and ideas. For this, it is posed the challenge of attending to the demands and expectations of different cultural expressions.

Museum of chaos

How to rethink history and place the South Atlantic as a guide of other narratives, integrated in the space of the museum? In the suggestion of Nanette Snoep, the path is through a participative work between thinkers, technicians, creators, artists, the public, and curators, so that the references in the exhibition conceptions change focus. “Little by little, we will lose authority. New histories and thoughts will change the process.” As such, this “chaos museum” will have to deal with crossed practices: of conservation, conversation, and experimentation. “It is necessary to blur everything that defines the idea of the museum, creating a contact zone.” Nanette Snoep proposes a labyrinth of thoughts, with fluidity and flexibility. The narrative of cacophony should be the starting point of a structure closer to the prologue, which will construct a cabinet of curious histories. “We tried to integrate personal histories in the museum’s collection, without impeding the creation of a permanent content.”

“Rematriate” objects

In the exchanges between the audience and the speaker, the challenge of dealing critically with collections gained new approaches, suggested by the notion of “rematriating objects.” This would be a movement of devolution of that which was stolen back to their matrices out of the necessity of making circulate the stories of these anonymous people. As Bonaventure Ndikung pointed out, humans have been constantly objectified. “How is it possible to subjectify these materials? They are subjects of subjective origin and complexity. Museums cannot give themselves the luxury of presenting collections that are not formatted by people,” he pointed out. Nanette contextualized matters of politico-institutional order in European countries, responsible for impeding that these objects circulate and tell their stories. “There are some difficulties in speaking, for example, about colonial wars. This is why, as director, I cannot simply return them to their place of origin, but I believe that the first step speaks about the inclusion of the narratives of these subjects."

Luis Fernando Lisboa