Uluru, c-print, edition of 5/5, 500,0 x 178,0cm, 2005

Museumslabor Dahlem
lecture-performance space, 2008–2010

The Museum Laboratory Dahlem was an art education program focused on Aboriginal Australian artefacts in Berlin’s Ethnological Museum Dahlem. Many of these objects are considered secret-sacred or „tjuringa“ by their traditional owners, the Arrernte people of Central Australia. Their representatives assert that these „objects“ are not mere objects. Even today, such „tjuringa“ remain a connection for the Aboriginal nations to their ancestors and the land on which they reside. Although the Australian embassy in Berlin complained about cultural taboos being violated by displaying these collection objects for many years, the museum’s staff kept „tjuringa“ on display.

Between 2008 and 2010, the »Museum Laboratory Dahlem« restaged the museum vitrines as video projection while censoring the sensitive material. The taboos surrounding „tjurringas“ and how today’s Australian society tries to deal with culturally sensitive materials in the media became part of an education program on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values and culture: »The Protocol Archive«, installation, 2009, c-prints, wooden boards, various sizes.

In several workshops, various experts discussed the controversy of „tjuringas“ and the dilemma surrounding their destiny in Berlin. Although many Aboriginal Australians wish for their restitution to Arrernte country, the restitution of these ancestral remains is particularly difficult: Within the Arrernte and related Aboriginal Australian communities, nobody possessing the relevant cultural knowledge to identify unclassified „tjuringas“ would dare to look at them. And until it is clear to which totemic group such artefacts belong, few traditional Aboriginal people would risk breaking a sacred taboo by possibly looking at another group’s secret-sacred business. Until today, the Wettengel collection remains in the depot of the Prussian Heritage Collection.

The Wettengel Collection
Berlin, 2009, B/W, 76 pages, open access ->

„The Wettengel Collection“ is a publication about Arrernte „tjuringas“ provenance in Berlin. Their collector was Nikolaus Wettengel, a German missionary for the Lutheran Church who migrated to Australia to convert Aboriginal children in Hermannsburg. The publication chronologically reconstructs his correspondence with the church between 1896 and 1906. Wettengel’s reports indicate that he plundered a secret-sacred storehouse (an „ertnatulunga“; Arrernte) where such “tjuringas” used to be hidden before selling them to the “Völkerkundemuseum Berlin” (later renamed the „Ethnological Museum Dahlem“).

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