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Knight Moves / Project Description

Playful Experiments in the Program Work

by Agnes Wegner

The start of the Humboldt Lab Dahlem project offered the opportunity for many intensive discussions between the curators of both museums, the Humboldt Lab staff and external experts. Topics included the order of the museum, coping with the history of the collections and possibilities of dispensing with the institutional prerogative of interpretation. How can this take place? How can one operate during the course of an exhibition with content- and design-related breaks and commentaries to generate multiperspectivity and dramaturgical tension—for example, through artistic or thematic interventions? This is where the “Knight Moves” came into play: With the aid of mobile displays and specified as Humboldt Lab interventions, they were inserted within the existing exhibitions in Dahlem as brief object dialogs. After a probing phase, the Lab direction selected the following participants: Andrea Scholz (then research assistant at the Ethnologisches Museum), Martina Stoye (curator at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst) and Theo Eshetu (video artist). The projects they proposed addressed crucial themes in the programmatic work of the Humboldt Lab.

“Knight Moves: Surinam/Benin” – Object Biography

Andrea Scholz had the idea to integrate an object from Surinam made by the Maroons around the year 1900 into the permanent Benin exhibition. This “Knight move” was meant to exemplarily demonstrate the interweaving between Latin America and Africa that evolved through the history of slave trade and comment on the Benin exhibition. Less is known of the actual usage of the selected object, a rod with the inventory number V A 13776, than of the circumstances of its acquisition for the collection: An entry on the historical index card of the collection notes a theft by the Herrnhuter missionaries in the Wanhatti station in eastern Surinam. In the “Knight Moves” display case, the rod was exhibited with this index card and a map. For the accompanying flyer, Scholz opted for short texts briefly outlining the historical circumstances and the history of the Maroons and the Herrnhuter missionaries. The “Knight Moves: Surinam/Benin” thus narrated both the violent history of slave trading and that of the object in the collection.

“Knight Moves: Purnakumbha” - Cooperation

This “Knight move” referred to the fact that many objects in the collection in Dahlem stem from religious usage that can no longer be experienced in their current presentation as pure art objects. Martina Stoye wanted to show in which way the objects are still components of lived religiosity today: She decided on a ritualistic installation with Purnakumbhas (“vases of abundance”), which can be found in numerous depictions in the museum. During Hindu ceremonies, images of gods are “animated” by temporarily setting up these vases in a festive act. They serve as a kind of charging station for the divine spark.
For planning and implementation, Stoye cooperated with the Sri Mayurapathy Murugan Temple in Berlin-Britz. Mr. Nadarajah Thiagarajah functioned as a worldly mediator between the curator and the Hindu temple priests and agreed to jointly install a ritual installation in the museum. Everything was discussed step by step: What the presentation should look like and how the direct juxtaposition of worldly and religious spheres should be spatially organized; how elements necessary for the ritual were to be treated that did not meet the museum’s conservational requirements; and how the cooperation was to be described by the accompanying flyer.
The exhibition ultimately consisted of two parts: The museum showcase with a selection of historical Purnakumbha depictions and the temporary ritual installation with ten sacred vases that were consecrated by the priest during the opening of “Probebühne 1”.
The intensive collaboration and the joint negotiation of the form of presentation of “Knight Moves: Purnakumbha“ led to important insights on the side of the participants; the background of the installation was explained in the accompanying text.

“Knight Moves: Mirror Ball Constellation” - Commentary

Theo Eshetu was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program and worked on a video installation dealing with the return of the Axum obelisks robbed by Benito Mussolini from Rome to Addis Ababa. For this reason, Eshetu was highly interested in the new conception of the collection presentation in the future Humboldt-Forum. With “Knight Moves: Mirror Ball Constellation”, he proposed integrating an object not belonging to the museum into the collection. “What belongs in a museum? A mirror ball!” For him, it was a suitable means to reflect upon questions pertaining to concepts of art and culture, to the foreignness and classification of objects in ethnological collections.
The irritation intended by Eshetu was discussed in a complex way by the expert colleagues: Does the mirror ball evoke exoticism? Shouldn’t it be embedded more strongly in content-related terms and, for example, make reference to the local forms of club culture in Papua New Guinea?1 What was really conspicuous in the “Mirror Ball Constellation” was the poetry of the points of light, which many viewers associated with the starry sky over the South Seas.

Small Interventions, Large Fields of Action

In their function within the work process, the three “Knight Moves” can be evaluated as a success. They allowed testing participatory forms of work, gauging thematic fields in the Lab and granting room for internal critique. All three also succeeded in interrupting the actual narrative of the permanent exhibition and providing exciting impetus. The design of the respective installations differed greatly from the other areas of the permanent exhibition: It had to be conspicuous. All three projects revealed that the complexity of the themes cannot be represented by an object installation alone: Accompanying texts on flyers appeared to be an adequate solution and were therefore made available here, as well. The three “Knight Moves” formats offered different possibilities of perception and interpretation. As deliberately brief dialogs, they formed a welcomed opposite pole to the lengthy discussions arising in the plans for the Humboldt-Forum. The “Knight Moves” project is to be continued in the frame of the Humboldt Lab Dahlem.


1 Cf. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie. Vol. 138, 2013.

Agnes Wegner has been the managing director of the Humboldt Lab Dahlem since July 2012.

The accompanying project booklets with explanatory text, which were displayed during the exhibitions, can be viewed here:

Booklet „Purnakumbha“ (PDF)

Booklet „Spiegelkugel / The Mirror Ball Constellation“ (PDF)

Booklet „Surinam/Benin“ (PDF)

Theo Eshetu has been active in media art since 1982. His work often revolves around the relationship between African and European cultures. Eshetu has exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. He has also taken part in the exhibitions "Snap Judgments" (curated by Okwui Enwesor), "Equatorial Rhythms" at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo, "Die Tropen" at the Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin, "GEO- graphics" at the Bozar Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, and at the Venice Biennale in 2011. His videos have been screened at numerous film festivals, with awards in Berlin and Italy. In 2012 Theo Eshetu was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.

Andrea Scholz studied ethnology, sociology and Romance studies in Bonn and conducted research in Mexico (2004) and Venezuela (2007– 2009). The theme of her dissertation was the recognition of indigenous territories in Guayana/Venezuela and was published in 2012 under the title “Die Neue Welt neu ermessen”. In the course of her field studies, she has dealt with the material culture of the Guayana region. In addition to her work on the planning process of the Humboldt-Forum and for the Humboldt Lab Dahlem, Andrea Scholz is engaged with ethnographies from South America.

Martina Stoye is curator of South and Southeast-Asian art at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Berlin. Her engagement with the art of South Asia dates as far back as 1985. After working for five years in a freelance capacity for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, she took up a post as lecturer on Indian art history at the Freie Universität, Berlin, from 1995 to 2001. Funded by the Gerda-Henkel-Stiftung, she subsequently conducted research into Buddhist Gandhara art and in 2007/08 worked on a major Gandhara exhibition for the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle in Bonn. Over the years, she has led numerous art-based study trips to India. She has served as curator at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst for Indian and Southeast-Asian art since 2008.

You can find further reading on this project here.