Tuning into Future Symphonies of Return
In her newest work Tuning into future symphonies of return Schonfeldt critically confronts the urgent contemporary situation facing European museums to restitute and repatriate their vast colonially acquired collections to their rightful original owners. Schonfeldt proposes an imaginary, fictional euro-futuristic museum display from the year 2043 to tackle the lack of transparency, accountability and missed innovative potential of current museums to maintain their own contemporary relevance that she witnesses in today’s European museum politics.
In her fictional museum display, housed in the European Museum of Restitution in an anonymous former European colonial metropole, Schonfeldt imagines what such a futuristic European ethnographic display would look like. More precisely she imagines what this euro-futuristic museum would consist of once the 1000s of human remains, sacred and everyday objects have been returned unconditionally to their communities of origin?
The display exhibits the now restituted collections as a way to self-reflect on the process of return and the turbulent histories embedded in them, as well as to examine the history of European colonial violence situated within the former museum collections. In her 2043 museum vast collections have already been restituted - the majority since the establishment of a legally binding European-wide agreement from 2031 requiring museums to unconditionally restitute their collections. In lieu of the original returned objects, exact 3D copies have been manufactured to replace them, thereby activating new self-reflection on the historical importance and meaning of their restitution and associated entanglements. Poetic omissions, in which absences create fertile presences, demand more sensitivity towards the continued current display and retention of Indigenous human remains in collections. In a post-return futuristic museum, ancestral remains are displayed with a dignified non-presence.
The fictional exhibit enables transparency and European self-reflection within a futuristic museum landscape by visibly integrating mirrors and transparent plexiglass display cases. QR codes replace the museum labels of old to provide detailed histories of each object’s or ancestral remains’ return whilst an ipad allows visitors to read the history of the circumstances that led to the establishment of the European Museums of Restitutions in 2041.
By activating a Euro museum display set in the near future Tuning into…becomes a demand for museums to take responsibility for the violent, colonially entangled provenance of the majority of their collections, to self-reflect upon themselves and their significant role in colonial violence, as well their lack of willingness to take a pro-active approach to restitution. Through transfiguring despair at the slow progress of European ethnographic museums to take accountability for their past into a futuristic imaginary Schonfeldt urgently demands more action from the present.