Provenance Research International Inventories Programme

Dennis Opudo, Head of the Anthropological Department of the Nairobi National Museum, in the Museum's Ethnographic Collection
Dennis Opudo, Head of the Anthropological Department of the Nairobi National Museum, in the Museum's Ethnographic Collection | Photo (detail): Gioia Forster © picture alliance
  • 01. January 2019 — 31. December 2021

  • Restitution, Provenance research, The role of museums, Postcolonial art production, Reappraisal of the colonial past

  • Nairobi (Kenya); Cologne (Germany); Frankfurt am Main (Germany)

The international research, database and exhibition project “International Inventories Programme” (IIP) focuses on Kenyan artefacts that have been held in museums and collections outside the country since colonial times. More than 32,500 objects have so far been identified. In addition to building a database of these objects, researching the history of their acquisition, artistic debates and exhibitions are scheduled to take place in Kenya and Germany.

How can Kenyan cultural assets that are in the possession of cultural institutions - for instance in Europe and the USA - also be made accessible in Kenya? This question is the focus of the International Inventories Programme (IIP). The main objective of the global inventory is to explore and make transparent the extent and acquisition history of Kenyan (objects) currently held in museums outside the country. As of 24th February 2021 it had been established that at least 32,501 Kenyan artefacts are currently not in their country of origin, but in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Belgium, USA, Italy and France.

In addition to the scientific recording of the artefacts, the history of their reception abroad, the role that the objects play there and the stories they tell will also be examined. Artists, museum professionals and researchers from the participating countries will jointly examine the “translocation” of objects from Kenya to Europe. What memories have these objects or their absence left behind? How were knowledge production and transfer influenced or transformed? 

The results of this process will be presented in the exhibition series Invisible Inventories, which will open at the Nairobi National Museum on 17 March 2021 – in the absence of the historical Kenyan objects. The Kenya collections will be visualised subsequently in the exhibitions of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne from 27 May 2021 and the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main from 5 October 2021. The connecting element of the exhibitions is the joint research work of the past two years and current positions by the artist collectives The Nest and SHIFT.

The exhibition project Invisible Inventories is funded by the German General Cultural Foundation.

Project participants

The National Museums of Kenya
Juma Ondeng’(Research Scientist)
Lydia Nafula (Research Scientist)
Njeri Gachihi (Research Scientist)
Philemon Nyamanga (Research Scientist)
Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Köln
Dr. Clara Himmelheber (Head of the African Collections)

Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt
Leonie Neumann (Assistant Head of the Africa Collection)
Frauke Gathof(Research Assistant of the Africa Collection)
Julia Friedel (Head of the Africa Collection)

SHIFT Collective
Sam Hopkins (Artist)
Dr. Marian Nur Goni (Research Scientist)
Simon Rittmeier (Artist)
The Nest Collective
Jim Chuchu (Director)
Dr. Njoki Ngumi (Head of Learning and Development)
External experts
Kiprop Lagat
George Gachara
George Abungu
Nanette Snoep
Freda Nkirote M’mbogori
Bénédicte Savoy