Curating Global Entanglements

Within a European context, the rethinking of curatorial practices has recently become an urgent matter of concern, not least because of the continent’s colonial histories. The devastating consequences of colonial rule, including the looting of objects and the displacement of people, have historically led to involuntary migratory movements and turned many museums into potent, celebratory reminders of colonialism. Profound societal transformations are currently also taking place due to the evolving multi-ethnicity of European populations in the wake of decades of intensified immigration and globalization. The cultural pluralization of European societies has only become more extensive during the last couple of decades due to work-related migration, forced migration as well as the increasing displacement of refugees worldwide as the result of persecution, conflict, ecological crisis, violence, hunger, and human rights violations. Migration is thus on the rise, and this year Europe has furthermore experienced the largest refugee crisis since the 2nd World War due to the currently waged war in Ukraine.

As a result of former and ongoing forms of migration, European societies have become sites of social contact and conflict and their populations have to a still increasing degree become globally entangled. This seminar aims to explore how contemporary curatorial practices are responding to the transformative and highly contested impact of migration. The objective of the seminar will be to enable a focused discussion of how critical approaches to contemporary curatorial practices can engage with the antagonistic struggles over issues of identity, community and history that characterize today’s migration-induced European societies. Taking into consideration the rise of xenophobic and racial violence as well as the widening gaps in class and economic realities in European societies over the last decades, the focus will be directed towards curatorial practices that seek to actively counter these tendencies by focusing on equality, hospitality, non-neutrality, anti-colonial resistance, epistemological disobedience, institutional self-reflection, radical sharing, and the creation of transversal alliances of solidarity that cut across sedimented markers of difference. In so doing, the seminar will explore de-/ and postcolonial approaches to curating and discuss how these can be applied as productive perspectives on contemporary exhibition practices that deal with the ongoing negotiations being played out in today’s globally entangled communities. More specifically, the seminar will shed light on the importance of decentering Western museums as well as the critical significance of re-imagining curatorial practices and fostering new forms of resistance as a response to the asymmetrical power relations underpinning today’s globally entangled societies. Lastly, but importantly, the concluding discussion will provide speakers and the audience with an opportunity to discuss the synergies between the two avenues of exploration.

All are welcome. Please sign up for the seminar with Sabine Dahl Nielsen, no later than 3 May 2022.


Janna Graham, Goldsmiths College (presenting online)

Spectral Spaces - Plotting Responses in the Ruins of Racial Capitalism

Spectres of colonialism and enslavement live within global contested spaces and underpin contemporary incidents of bordering, speculative development, migration, and the policing of Black, Brown, and non-conforming lives. How do we contend with this spectrality as cultural workers? Beyond current calls for ‘decolonisation’ of the museum and existing cultural spaces, how can cultural infrastructures support struggles that are taking place in the ruins of racial capitalism? Drawing from experiences with London’s Deptford People’s Heritage Museum, the seminar will explore the possibility for re-imagining the museum and curatorial practices more generally as a response to local processes of speculative development. Founded by Joyce Jacca and Ken Thomas in 2019 the Deptford People’s Heritage Museum is based on the river Thames between a low-income housing estate and the former Deptford Dockyard. Active until the 1960s the Deptford Docks were a point of departure for expeditions of colonial extraction and ships involved in the violent enslavement of Africa people. It now serves as a multi-billion-pound real estate development project incurred against the will of local people.  Born of a Saturday morning food bank supporting African and Caribbean diasporic communities, the Museum is currently articulated through object collection, local walks and contesting processes of speculative development that refigure colonial histories as a unique selling point. The Museum works with a local community and ancestral ghosts to forge relation between the past, present and future of the local modes of resistance.

Nina Möntmann, University of Cologne

Decentering the Museum

In confronting their colonial heritage, some museums still make it seem as if this heritage belongs to the past, treating colonialism as if it were a bygone era that has left collections behind. The policy of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin can serve as a concise example of this misconception. In contrast, an example of a successful attempt to talk about the present in a Western museum by contextualizing the unfinished, interrupted stories of historical objects is the extensive and internationally acclaimed exhibition and digital project Resist! The Art of Resistance, at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (RJM) in Cologne in 2021/22. At the RJM, with director Nanette Snoep, an experimental approach to decolonizing an anthropological museum is presented, which also seems significant for the decentering efforts of contemporary art museums. In this lecture, I explore the museum's possibilities to engage with its colonial past in the handling of objects, knowledge, and infrastructure.



Janna Graham is a researcher, organiser, and curator whose work operates at the intersections of spatial injustice, radical pedagogy and institutional analysis.  From 2008-2014 she worked with communities on the Edgware Road to develop the Centre for Possible Studies, a residency and urban research / action space, funded via Serpentine Galleries’ Projects strand resulting on the publication series, Studies on a Road, exhibitions, and papers. She is editor of Art + Care: a Future, based on a four year action research project using cultural strategies to understand the relationship between practices of elderly care and neighbourhood development, and more recently co-authored Conflicts and Media Make Migrants (University of Manchester Press, 2021) with Kirsten Forkert, Gargi Battacharrya, Federico Olivera and a number of refugee organisations in the UK and Italy. Graham is a lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths where she leads the BA in Curating. She is part of the international sound and political collective Ultra-red. and is a volunteer with the Deptford People’s Heritage Museum. 

Nina Möntmann is Professor of Art Theory at the University of Cologne, curator and writer and PI at the Global South Study Center (GSSC) at the University of Cologne. Before she has been Professor of Art Theory and the History of Ideas at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, and curator at NIFCA, the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art in Helsinki. Recent exhibitions include Fluidity (Kunstverein in Hamburg 2016); Harun Farocki: A New Product (Deichtorhallen Hamburg, 2012); If we can't get it together. Artists rethinking the (mal)functions of community (The Power Plant, Toronto, 2008); The Jerusalem Show: Jerusalem Syndrome (co-curated with Jack Persekian), 2009; the Armenian Pavillion for the 52nd Venice Biennial.

Recent publications include Kunst als Sozialer Raum, (Cologne, König Books, 2002 / 2017) and the edited volumes Brave New Work. A Reader on Harun Farocki’s film‚ A New Product’, English/German (Cologne, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2014); Scandalous. A Reader on Art & Ethics (Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2013); New Communities (Toronto, Public Books/The Power Plant, 2009) and Art and Its Institutions (London, Black Dog Publishing, 2006).


Organizer: Department of Art and Cultural Studies / Togetherness in Difference: Reimagining Identities, Histories and Communities through Art

This research project and the symposium are supported by Novo Nordisk Foundation grant NNF19OC0053992.