Invisible Inventories

Kenyan Perspectives on Restitution

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Project description

Ethnological museums in many European countries are actively involved in the public debate on the restitution of cultural assets acquired during the colonial period. Benedicte Savoy’s and Felwine Sarr’s report in November 2018 and the Berlin Humboldtforum have placed the topic at the top of the cultural-political agenda once again. The research and exhibition project “Invisible Inventories” aims to present the European debate alongside African perspectives and positions. The goal is to “decolonise” the discourse on restitution by approaching the subject from the perspective of the countries of origin. In this project, two German museums – the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne and the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main – will collaborate with the National Museums of Kenya for a period of two years. The participants will investigate the Kenyan collections at both museums, the basis of which will serve to create new artworks and a corresponding exhibition.

The Kenyan artist and filmmaker Jim Chuchu and his artists’ group Nest Collective have agreed to act as the artistic directors for the project. They will organise preparatory workshops in Cologne and Frankfurt and work closely with European artists and researchers, such as Marian Nur Goni and Sam Hopkins. The research findings and artistic works will then be presented in exhibitions at the three participating museums. In 2021 and 2022, a multifaceted accompanying programme of tours, films and lectures in Nairobi, Cologne and Frankfurt am Main will serve to stimulate dialogue with the visitors.

“Invisible Inventories” is based on the research activities of the International Inventories Programme (IIP), a project initiated by the Goethe-Institut in Nairobi. The IIP is developing a database which documents Kenyan objects in ethnological collections around the world. Until November 2020, more than 32 000 objects from thirty different institutions have been documented in it.

Artists: The Nest Kollektiv: Jim Chuchu, Njoki Ngumi, SHIFT Kollektiv: Sam Hopkins, Simon Rittmeier
Researchers: SHIFT Kollektiv: Marian Nur Goni
National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi: Njeri Gachihi, Lydia Nafula, Philemon Nyamanga, George Juma Ondeng
Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Köln: Clara Himmelheber
Weltkulturen Museum: Julia Friedel, Frauke Gathof, Leonie Neumann

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Invisible Inventories Programme

More information about the Invisible Inventories Programme (external link, opens in a new window) and the exhibitions at Nairobi National Museum, Rautenstrauch-Joest museum in Cologne and Weltkulturen-Museum in Frankfurt in 2021 and 2022.


  • 5 October, 2021 to 9 January, 2022: Opening & Exhibition

    Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main

  • 27 May, 2021 to 29 August, 2021: Opening & Exhibition

    Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne

  • 17 March, 2021 to 2 May, 2021: Opening & Exhibition

    National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi