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Rematriation Rehearsals: On a Mesoamerican Skull Displayed in Leiden

Koloniale geschiedenis en New Museology

Restitution of stolen or looted artifacts has been a growing topic within museums and the cultural sector. What role can digital technologies play in tackling the issue of contested cultural heritage, and how can we include the communities within this process? Join us on 2 November for a collective conversation, where a team of researchers, artists and members of indigenous communities from Mexico come together and invite everyone to discuss possibilities, limitations, and ethical considerations 3D printing offers.

Museums worldwide house artifacts that have been unlawfully acquired, either through (colonial) looting, theft, or trafficking. While there have been efforts in increasing guidelines on provenance research and restitution, the process remains complex, sensitive, and not always lead to desirable outcomes. Recent developments in 3D printing might present innovative and global approaches to address these issues. By creating almost identical copies and presenting the same object in various ways, 3D printing shows potential to engage with original artifacts, while at the same time ensuring critical dialogues on restorative and reparative justice remain.

To explore how 3D printing can renegotiate issues concerning contested heritage in museums, researchers Dr. Naomi Oosterman (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Liselore Tissen (Leiden/Delft University), and artist Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba (Rijksakademie/Pressing Matter) have been studying the possibilities and ethical considerations 3D printing can offer. Some social art practice provocations initiated by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba, co-produced during his time as Pressing Matter artist in resident, has been the synergic starting point of this conversation and provided the case central to this inquiry: an ancestral Mesoamerican human skull currently on display at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, the Netherlands.

Over the past months, Daniel, along with poet Nadia Ñuu Savi and visual artist Mili Herrera has co-facilitated visionary archeology workshops with two Mixtec communities in Santa María Cuquila, Oaxaca (México) and Oxnard, California (USA), considering accessibility, co-creation, collaboration, and inclusion as main pillars during the process. During these workshops, children and young adults engaged with small 3D-printed skulls of the original “Leiden skull” where they were introduced to the story of the skull and how it traveled from Mexico to the Netherlands. To continue this communal effort and expand the story with the 3D-printed skull in the future through forms of imagination, speculation and care, the research team invites Mixtec scholars Lic. Izaira López Sánchez (The Americas Research Network), Dr. Omar Aguilar Sánchez (Universidad Autónoma Comunal de Oaxaca) to hear their perspective on this discussion. The research team asks participants to join this conversation, exchange ideas, and pay tribute to the skull by celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) together.

18:00-19:00 Introduction of the topic

Dr. Naomi Oosterman: A skull with multiple narratives
Dr. Omar Aguilar Sánchez & Izaira López Sánchez: Decolonization and repatriation in the Ñuu Savi
Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba: On visionary archeology
Liselore Tissen: The digital afterlife of the skull: ethical considerations & role of museums

19:00 Interactive audience discussion

19:30 Celebremos el Día de los Muertos! Including snacks and drinks

20:00 Closure


Framer Framed

Oranje-Vrijstaatkade 71

1093 KS Amsterdam

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