The list of objects from the colonial era in the museums and collections whose origin is unclear is long. A foundation has now approved the funding of several project applications in order to shed more light on the matter.

The German Lost Art Foundation supports other museums and institutions that want to research the origin of their holdings from the colonial era. It is about cultural assets from Scandinavia, East Africa and China, as well as human remains from former colonial areas.

In the first round of applications in 2022, 1.6 million euros have now been approved for nine research applications. Seven projects had been newly applied for, two current ones would be extended.

For example, the most important Sámi collection outside of Northern Europe in the Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK) in Berlin-Dahlem is supported. The origin of around 1000 objects and photographs should be researched there. The Sámen in the northern regions of Norway, Finland, Sweden and on the Kola Peninsula of the Russian Federation lost most of the material evidence of their culture during nation-state oppression.

Origin of objects often «unquestioned»

A project at the University of Cologne is about colonial collections in art museums and artists’ estates. Artefacts from the collections of the “Brücke” artists Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel and Max Pechstein should be examined more closely. “This is intended to raise awareness of the fact that thousands of objects from colonial contexts are stored not only in ethnological museums but also in art collections, the origin of which is unclear – and often also unquestioned,” the Loss of Cultural Assets Center continues.

The German Lost Art Foundation was founded on January 1, 2015 by the federal, state and local umbrella organizations in Magdeburg. It is the central point of contact for questions relating to unlawfully confiscated cultural property. The main focus was on the period of National Socialism. In January 2019, the German Lost Art Foundation was expanded to include a department for colonial contexts. Since then, around six million euros have been approved for 50 projects in this area.