A Donkey for the White Visitor: Practices of Collecting (with) Forced Migrants

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Susanne Boersma
Dachil Sado


At a time when public and political opinion towards forced migration is negatively inclined, many museums in Europe are applying a collaborative approach to address the stories of forced migrants (Boersma 2023; Sergi 2021). Through participatory projects, museum practitioners are attempting to put forward an alternative to the ‘authorized heritage discourse’ (Smith 2006), yet their practices rarely accommodate a shift towards a more inclusive discourse. Aiming to shed light on the experienced limitations of collaborative curation, this paper scrutinizes what lies in the wake of a participatory project. Assuming a focus on collection practices as a result of participatory work, this paper looks at one project in particular: ‘daHEIM: Glances into Fugitive Lives’, which was organized at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin. Through interviews with former participants and museum practitioners, combined with one of the author’s lived experience of the project and its aftermaths, this paper unpacks the persistence of hierarchies within collaborative practices and the ways in which these feed into the discourse that is developed as a result. The paper starts from the process of collecting the potential outcomes of a participatory project within an inherently white institution, and it draws parallels between practices of care for people, as well as for their objects and artworks.

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