Unraveling the Hero’s Journey
The aim of my project is to retrace the lines of extraction, following objects in the collection to their point of origin. The work will not only be an object oriented geography, but rather a critical look at ownership and colonial conquest.
The creators of the objects themselves are erased, disconnected from the artifact. What remains is the object and the story maintained by the “collector,” typically a white male colonial figure.
What is the role of the “collector” who so generously donated all these precious objects to museums?
Why were the material cultures of the Global South considered unreal until they pass through white hands and are rendered through the white graze?
Beginning with the character of Max von Oppenheim Collection whose foundation has donated a vast amount of artifacts from the African continent to RJM, we begin to unwind and problematize his role in the archive through a method of “critical fabulation”.
Critical Fabulation, a term coined by Sadiya Hartman is defined as a method f “combining of historical and archival research with critical theory and fictional narrative to fill in the blanks left in the historical record. It is both a fleshing out and a problematizing of history and is ultimately as gratifying and frustrating as it sounds.”
Essentially a rich banker turned adventurer, Oppenheim’s legacy as a brave discoverer and worldly scholar is maintained by the foundation after death.
According to the Max Von Oppenheim Foundation’s website, Oppenheim is praised with “Building Bridges between Orient and Occident.”
This framing of his character as “hero” can be deconstructed through a critical lens where Orientalism can be witnessed as a colonial worldview, that of conquest and exploitation rather than innocent discovery.
By retracing the collection objects through a satirical version of Oppenheim’s “hero-arc” or “hero-journey” we can create fractures in the archive so it can leak out into the world in messy ways!
Columbusing - an Internet slang term used to describe the act of white people appropriating non-white culture for themselves without recognizing its true origins. The term is named after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who was credited with discovering the Americas while it was already inhabited by indigenous people.
3C9C038A-9B16-4DB3-9270-3068D7DDDB36.jpegBiography of Oppenheim from foundation’s website:
“Max von Oppenheim was born on 15 July 1860 in Cologne. His father Albert was the head of Sal. Oppenheim jr. & Cie., a respected private banking institution founded in 1789. The family played a leading role as a generous donor and patron; its professional ethos, cosmopolitanism, and love of art and culture played a decisive role in the development of Max’s character and world view.
As a matter of course, Oppenheim’s upbringing pursued the aim of succeeding his father at the bank. But Max imagined a different future. Having read “Thousand and One Nights” as a boy and devoured the popular travel accounts of German scholars’ journeys, he, too, wanted to explore the Islamic world. What Oppenheim’s parents considered a youth’s enthusiasm matured into a serious preoccupation. A year-long tug-of-war between parents and son ended in compromise when Max consented to study law, first in Strasbourg and then Berlin. In 1883, he passed the first state examination and earned a doctorate in jurisprudence. A doggedly endured year as a judicial clerk was followed by another uneventful year in the Prussian civil service. Finally, Albert von Oppenheim came to understand his son’s predilection – not only did he abstain from imposing his will on Max, but in a generous and prescient move, he also promised his son unconditional support.”