The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.
We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.
Faculty of Humanities
The Faculty of Humanities links a number of fields of study: Language, Literature and Communication, Art & Culture, History, Antiquities and Philosophy. Our teaching and research focus on current societal and scientific themes: from artificial intelligence to visual culture, from urbanization to the history of slavery, from ‘fake news’ in journalism to communication in organizations. We strive to ensure small group sizes. Innovative education and interdisciplinary research are our hallmarks.
Working at the Faculty of Humanities means making a real contribution to the quality of leading education and research in an inspiring and personal work and study climate. We employ more than 250 staff members, and we are home to around 1,300 students.
About the project Pressing Matter
The four-year research project “Pressing Matter: Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums” is collaborative across five academic institutions and five Dutch museums, in collaboration with national, and international partners from across the world. The project is led by Prof. Susan Legêne and Wayne Modest at the Faculty of Humanities at VU and funded by the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA).
Pressing Matter responds to the growing contestation over what to do with the colonial heritage held in museums. This growing controversy reveals the need to account for the polarised positions of these debates, ranging from scholars, activists and community members championing the return of objects to correct historical wrongs, to those who contend that objects should be retained irrespective of circumstances of acquisition by museums in light of their (universal) cultural and scientific value. In the middle are advocates of more relational heritage practices, comprising dialogue and sharing in how objects are distributed. Pressing Matter has identified various approaches to this problem, and to the different categories of collections in collaborating museums that will be the starting points for research.
Researchers start from this shared research framework, while doing research for their own individual research output, including a PhD thesis. While developing their own views and insights, they commit themselves to the overall programme through collaborative multidisciplinary approaches, based in shared access to research findings and result based research. Pressing Matter has been developed within the context of the National Science Agenda of the Netherlands. A large team of PhD candidates, postdocs, museum staff, and senior academics will be organized across 8 work packages, hosted in five different universities and collaboration with five museums and several societal stakeholders.
About the sub-project
As part of Pressing Matter, Work Package 4b: New Relationships will explore the potential of artistic practice to scrutinize colonial heritage and work towards reconciliation. Historically, the relationship between colonial heritage and 'art' (as a Western discursive formation) has been a complex and ambivalent one. In recent years, artists and art-based interventions have played an important role within broader campaigns to decolonise museums. These interventions have addressed arts’ relationship with colonialism, attempting to remediate colonial relations in both the past and the present. Not only in the Netherlands, artists’ interventions have helped reformulate and offer answers to the key question of what to do with colonial heritage in museums and other public spaces. Grounded in specific collections, and yet spanning the globe, WP4b aims to review and build on this work to advance different modes of object-based repair and reconciliation. This will be achieved within a set of experimental Repair Labs, which comprise ongoing on- and offline and (trans)national workshops. The foundation of Work Package 4b is the PhD project that will focus on an in-depth analysis of contemporary artistic practices that have experimented with different modes of repairing colonial injustice and envisioned various forms reconciliation. This analysis will thus survey and contextualize exemplary artistic positions (globally), in order to develop a theoretical framework specifying the role of artistic strategies such as speculation, visualization, imagination, re-enactment, appropriation, reconstruction, and co-creation in encouraging reconciliation. It will explore these strategies in relation to the different types of museums and collections that hold colonial heritage, including those in the Pressing Matter consortium.
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