Project Researchers

Margareta von Oswald

© Tal Adler

I am an anthropologist, postdoctoral researcher and currently Mindscapes’ Curatorial Research Fellow at CARMAH.
Funded by the London-based Wellcome Trust, and realised by its International Cultural Programmes Team, the project aims to support a transformation in how we understand, address and talk about mental health. The project’s point of departure in Berlin is the Gropius Bau’s artist-in-residency Kader Attia’s engagement with repair, which will culminate in an exhibition and public programming in 2022.

My research is concerned with how people engage with difficult pasts, particularly colonial, in the present. From 2016-2021, I was a project researcher and doctoral candidate at CARMAH’s Making Differences. Transforming Museums and Heritage in the 21st Century.. Within the research group Transforming the Ethnographic“(with Jonas Tinius and Larissa Förster), we engaged with how the legacies of anthropological knowledge production and collecting are negotiated today, taking into account developments and perspecetives from the political, activist, research, artistic and curatorial spheres. One important outcome of the research group is the edited volume Across Anthropology. Troubling Museums, Colonial Legacies, and the Curatorial (ed. with Jonas Tinius).

My PhD addressed the possibilities and limits of ‘working through’ the ongoing articulations and effects of colonialism from within Berlin’s Ethnological Museum, and more particularly, its Africa department. Based on a two-year-ethnography of the museum’s different work practices (2013-2015), oral history interviews with current and former employees as well as archival work, the PhD examined the Museum’s embeddedness in colonial regimes of conceiving and doing the world. Whereas recent literature on museums tends to conceptualise them with metaphors related to change, to hybridity, and transformation, the PhD focused on how and why ‘the stubborn facts remain’. Crystallised in the notion of working through, reckoning with enduring colonial presences articulates as inconclusive and unsettling work in the Museum: it includes processes of recognition and acceptance of the colonial past and its duress, as well as multiple forms of difficulties, denials, resistances, and refusals to do so. The PhD thus addresses the relationship, frictions and tensions between agency and structure; between ‘good’ intentions and their unintended consequences.

Last updated June 2021.