Seeing the 'Other'?

Invitation to the virtual conference "Seeing the 'Other'? Theories & Histories of (Post-)Colonial Visual Cultures", held by the German Maritime Museum Bremerhaven and University of Bremen, 8 ‒ 9 April 2021

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Seeing the Other? Theories and Histories of (Post-)Colonial Visual Cultures

8 ‒ 9 april 2021

German Maritime Museum Bremerhaven
in cooperation with the Institute for Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies, the Institute for Anthropology and Cultural Studies and the Institute for Art History/Film Studies/Art Education at the University of Bremen PD Dr. Gisela Parak, Prof. Dr. Kerstin Knopf, PD Dr. Cordula Weißköppel, Jun.-Prof. Dr. Elena Zanichelli

Registration: The conference will take place online as a Zoom webinar. Free admission, but registration is required. To register, please follow this link.

Conference Abstract

Preceding the German Maritime Museum’s exhibition, “Seeing the Other? The Colonial Gaze”, to be opened on 17. April 2021, the conference "Seeing the Other? Theories and Histories of (Post-)Colonial Visual Cultures" brings together an international network of renowned scholars in the field of postcolonial studies and visual history. The conference aims to provide an overview of the explosive issue of dealing with pictorial expressions and reflections of our colonial heritage in order to foster discussion.Five thematic panels will discuss methods and theories dealing with colonial history and postcolonial practices and bring together perspectives of different academic disciplines such as ethnology, cultural history, history, postcolonial studies and art history. The panels will consider the geographical structures of the former German colonies of Northeast China, German New Guinea and Namibia and point out specific agendas and histories that accompanied the imperialist conquest of these territories.

No matter how "unencumbered" and "harmless" some individual travel photographs involved in the colonial seizure of the world may appear, the colonialist gaze with its ideological dispositions runs through all Western image collections like a red thread. Under the cloak of photographic objectivity, imagery stored in photographic travel albums contain numerous examples of an anthropometric "measurement" of strangers and of a violent oppression of indigenous cultures. Following the discussion of "robbed shadows" and a “photography against one’s will”, some representatives of postcolonial studies today demand that the photographs taken under coercive power relations should no longer be displayed in public, because no consent of those depicted can be assumed. The unlawful act of "taking a picture" symbolically perpetuates oppression and the ideology of white supremacy. Other scholars argue against iconoclasm and eliminating the material traces of a colonial past, highlighting the dangers of social amnesia. Instead, the wounds caused by colonialism should be left open in order to continually prompt public debate.

In recent years, visual historians have diversified our understanding on the ambivalences and contradictions inherent in the colonial gaze. At the turn of the century, despite an incarnated Eurocentrism, indigenous cultures appropriated Western pictorial conventions and subverted them to their advantage. Today, museums have started to include knowledge from people of origin in their refurbishment of pictorial collections and attempt to make this contested heritage accessible. Finally yet importantly, postcolonial scholars have sensitized the public to ongoing acts of racism to which some parts of Western societies still fall prey.  Taking up these issues, the conference will question and illuminate examples of a historic distribution of images taken during the colonial period and seeks to develop recommendations for dealing with these materials.



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PD Dr. Gisela Parak

Tel. +49 (0) 471 482 07 834

g.parak[ at ]