Afrika Kolloquium Work-in-progress: Virtual objects in cultural heritage dialogue

03.05.2022 17:15

by Petra Weschenfelder

Dienstag, 3. Mai 2022, 17.15 Uhr

In Präsenz: Seminarraum 1, Institut für Afrikawissenschaften, Spitalgasse 2, Hof 5, 1090 Wien

und online: im Moodle des Instituts für Afrikawissenschaften. Link wird nach Anfrage an zugeschickt.

Periods of colonialism and dictatorship discouraged and stopped inter-generational and intercultural dialogue on ethnohistory and cultural heritage in Sudan. Yet, the dialogue seems vital for the current situation of shaping the democratic processes started after the 2019 revolution since ethnohistory and cultural heritage hold the stories how the different ethnic groups in Sudan were historically linked and entangled. Without such knowledge inter- and intra-group relations might be challenged by misunderstanding, mistrust, jealousy or fear.

My project aims at encouraging and stimulating the dialogue with the help of cultural heritage objects. Yet, such objects that hold the capacity to stimulate the dialogue can hardly be found in Sudan since during the colonial period many were brought to western museums such as the Weltmuseum Vienna. Current calls for restitution of objects to their countries of origin are largely focused on smaller groups of objects and the process behind such restitution can take so long that the elder generations still knowing about the objects will have past away when the objects finally arrive. While many ethnological museums including the Weltmuseum recently started projects to simplify the search for such objects in their databases and provide easier access for members of the societies that produced the objects, the very nature of information in the databases and the museums' catalogues prevent that simplification.

My project assumes that 3d models of the objects in the Weltmuseum made available in an interactive online database accessible through a smartphone app can simplify the access. It can affect the interest of the younger Sudanese generations due to its VR and AR content and stimulate their dialogue with members of the elder generation to find out more about the objects. The augmented reality aspect can stimulate the memory of the elder generation when they virtually re-integrate the object into its original place and context. The application that provides the models should have the capacity to record, save, etc. the stories, photographs, songs etc. related to the objects and enrich the virtual object with that content. The content can be shared with other users and start discussions also with members of other ethnic groups in the country since often similar objects were used in the past but with different meanings or different ritual so that the sharing of the information can foster inter-group dialogue.

The dialogue should be monitored by a curatorial museal board in Sudan.

My project further aims at keeping the information on the objects in Sudan in the hands of that curatorial museal board. This aims at two goals: 1. Museums in the global south are usually excluded from intermuseal exchange of objects for temporary exhibitions or long term loans since most of their objects were brought to western museums during the colonial periods. However, due to the circumstances of their acquisition many western museums hold no or few information on their objects. The way my project is conceived it will collect and store such information for a southern museum that could use the information to enter the museal exchange network by offering the information as exchange object. 2. If in the future the objects will be returned to their country of origin there is the danger that it would enter the local museum as an empty object if there is no cultural connection remembered. The information collected in the app could be augmented on the real object and enrich it with all the personal stories and memories of the people that contributed to the app.