In publica commoda

Press release: Exhibition “Unpacking Colonialism – Discussing human remains in German collections”

No. 31 - 26.02.2024

Special digital exhibition in English to open online at Forum Wissen on Monday 25 March


There are two Göttingen University collections that contain a large number of human remains which were taken from areas that were former colonies of Germany or other countries in Europe. Most of these human remains were taken by researchers, travellers, colonial officials or traders – against the wishes of the local populations. Robbery and grave-looting were not uncommon at that time.


How should we deal with the human remains from colonial contexts that are still held in German collections today? The online and onsite digital exhibition in English "Unpacking Colonialism" provides some initial answers from the perspective of five visiting research fellows. These research fellows belong to societies from which human remains were taken. For several months, they conducted research onsite in Göttingen. What questions did the remains raise for them, and what kinds of demands arise in confronting these collections? Each box they open not only reveals the human remains stored inside, but also a history of European colonialism and its continuing ramifications – a chapter that has long been ignored from a German perspective.


At the centre of the online exhibition are several short films by cultural anthropologist and filmmaker Sofia Leikam. She sought to develop a multi-layered picture of this sensitive topic as elaborated in the "Sensitive Provenances" project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. In three chapters – Introducing, Doing Research, Giving Context – each of the films portrays one of the visiting research fellows and thus unfolds their different approaches, from archival work, to work in the collections, to the artistic and creative outcomes.



The digital special exhibition will be launched on Monday 25 March at 6.30 pm in the Freiraum of the Forum Wissen - the knowledge museum of the University of Göttingen - and be available to visitors online.



Note to editors:

The press are warmly invited to the online press conference on Monday 18 March 2024 at 11:00 (Central European Time). Please register by emailing: :


The following speakers will be available for discussion in German and/or English:

Dr Mikael Assilkinga, visiting research fellow, University of Dschang, Cameroon, and TU Berlin)

Sofia Leikam, filmmaker

Dr Christian Vogel, Manager of Academic Research, Centre for Collection Development


You are also cordially invited to the launch of the digital exhibition on 25 March 2024, 6.30 pm at Forum Wissen. In addition to the persons involved mentioned above, also research fellow McMichael Mutok from Palau will be present.

Address: Forum Wissen, Berliner Straße 28, 37073 Göttingen



Dr Christian Vogel
Göttingen University
Forum Wissen - Curator and Manager of Academic Research

Tel: +49 (0)551 39-26692