Léonie Süess


Making colonial heritage in/visible

The starting point of my contribution is the permanent diorama exhibition "Tiere Afrikas – Gorilla, Löwe und Co.", first opened in 1936 at the Berne Natural History Museum. The dioramas were built mainly between 1926-1959 and they display african animal specimens in their natural habitat. Further information and pictures have been added during the last 25 years to contextualize the origins of the East-Africa collection of the museum. 

Through a critical questioning of provenance and representation the current challenges and the potentials of the permanent exhibition with colonial heritage can both be demonstrated.

Referring to the concept of entangled history, I will follow the provenance of a mounted wildlife-group and examine the related interactions of the institution with other involved actors. A closer look at the objects helps to reconstruct their scientific, cultural and political dimension and the shifts of meaning that appeared over time. How do these object biographies become visible in the museum? 

Furthermore my interest lies in the timeless “Nature” in the exhibition. Though the historical dioramas have become artefacts of the aesthetics of museum education, the reconstructed wildlife scenes in conjunction with the introductory panel and captions don’t seem to have lost their illusionistic quality. What narratives about the African continent in relation to people, animals and cultural spaces are created by the arrangement of object and text?