UW alum, international journalist Jacob Kushner gives lecture

Lecture part of Kushner's week-long residency at UW

· Nov 28, 2022 Tweet

Ahmad Hamid/The Badger Herald

University of Wisconsin alum and award-winning international journalist Jacob Kushner gave a lecture Monday at 5 p.m. at Memorial Union.

Kushner’s lecture, “Into Africa: Reporting on the Return of Other Peoples’ Things,” addressed the debate over Africa’s lost heritage and the nuances of the issue, including whether certain artifacts should be displayed in museums. Kushner discussed his recent National Geographic pieces regarding the Humboldt Forum in Germany.

Kushner graduated from UW with a bachelor’s in journalism and Latin American studies and he received his master’s in political journalism from Columbia University, according to LACIS.

Kushner became interested in the subject of artifacts and museums a few years ago while in Berlin, Germany. In his talk, Kushner said it is important to think about the purpose of museums.

“To me, museums were always a place of education and a place to learn,” Kushner said.

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While liaising with European museums, he learned that museums did not start as places to learn. They were used by kings in Europe to demonstrate their power and show off their most ‘exotic’ artifacts, which were purchased and looted from their rightful owners, Kushner said.

Before colonialism, museums were dedicated to European art and artifacts, but afterward, it became a point of pride to have the most ‘exotic’ pieces of art, Kushner said.

In his recent reporting, Kushner delved into the newly opened Humboldt Forum, a museum in Germany that is set to display Germany’s non-European artifact collection.

“By showing off its colonial acquisitions in the first place, the Humboldt Forum perpetuates the same European gaze that Kings used to keep their power,” Kushner said. 

Kushner spoke of Hermann Baumann, a German ethnologist who was sent by Germany to Angola to bring back artifacts in the 1930s. German collectors like Baumann were looking for the most exotic things they could find to bring back and represent African cultures.

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Baumann brought back thrones belonging to the Chokwe people, which are now on display in the Humboldt Forum, according to Kushner. 

“To the Chokwe craftsmen who created these chairs, they were not designed to be put on a pedestal or put in a showcase,” Kushner said. “They commanded authority to whoever sat in them; only a chief or a king could sit in them.” 

So the question many are facing, according to Kushner, is why are the Germans the ones to decide which African artifacts are worthy of displaying?

After Kushner’s lecture, there was an open discussion about decolonizing Europe’s museums and to what extent artifacts should be returned.

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This article was published Nov 28, 2022 at 9:46 pm and last updated Nov 28, 2022 at 9:46 pm

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