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Module I –  Collections related to colonial contexts

Dates 2024 

January 26 and 27 – February 2, 3, 23 and 24 – March 1 and 2, 2024


Teaching languages: French and English

Module I Flyer


Even though the Swiss Confederation did not create an empire, the practice of provenance research for property acquired in colonial contexts is necessary in Switzerland. From the seventeenth century onwards, individual Swiss men and women took part in colonisation and benefited from the colonial structures in place at the time. They served in the armed forces, were merchants for Indian companies, were involved in evangelisation missions or were entrepreneurs, as historians have shown since the 2000s. Many other goods acquired in colonial contexts arrive in Switzerland via the art market, subsequently acquired by these same Swiss men and women.

Provenance research on objects acquired in colonial contexts has the particularity of studying their origin as well as their significance and cultural value within the source communities and with the people concerned, with whom the aim is to engage in dialogue while establishing equitable relations. In this context, it is also referred to as provenance research.

Purposes of module I

At the end of the training, participants will have acquired knowledge about:

  • the current state of provenance research in Switzerland concerning collections acquired in colonial contexts

  • the approaches and methods relating to provenance research for property from colonial contexts

  • the formal analysis of goods and sources as well as their critical treatment

  • the historiography of colonialism in the Swiss context

  • the Swiss Confederation and provenance research

  • the decolonisation of museum practices

  • the challenges and issues involved in critically rethinking the management and promotion of these collections in exhibition catalogues, sales catalogues and databases

Course programme (subject to change)

Moderation: Dr. Claire Brizon


January 26 2024 – Provenance research in Swiss museums

Dr. Claire Brizon, Art historian and museologist, researcher at the MCAH and project manager at Lange & Schmutz Provenance Research GmbH.

Dr. Gudrun Föttinger, Head of Collections, Bernisches Historisches Museum

January 27 2024 – Diversity of Swiss colonial collections

Dr. Béatrice Blandin, Curator of the Archaeology Department, Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva

Dr. Jocelyne Desideri, Lecturer at the ARCAN Laboratory and member of the Anthropological Collections Commission

Dr. Priska Gisler (in English), Director of the Institute for Art Theory and Practice, University of the Arts, Bern


February 2 2024 – Decolonising museums: from conservation-restoration to exhibitions

Isabel Garcia Gomez, curator-restorer, Musée d'ethnographie de Genève

Floriane Morin, Curator of the Africa Department, Musée d'ethnographie de Genève


February 3 2024 – African context: Benin City collections and the Dakar Declaration

Dr. Alice Hertzog, anthropologist, Provenance researcher, Ethnographic Museum Zurich

Speaker to be confirmed


February 23 2024 – Oceania context

Dr. Marion Bertin, post-doctoral researcher, Centre d'histoire sociale des mondes contemporains and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Anthony Meyer, Galerie Oceanic and Inuit Art, Paris


February 24 2024 – Workshop (introduction to provenance research methodologies)

Dr. Claire Brizon / Patricia Simon, M.A., Research associate at Lange & Schmutz Recherche de provenance Sàrl and doctoral student at UniBE


March 1 2024 – Decolonisation: contemporary and artistic interventions

Denis Pourawa, poet-writer, creator of indigenous imagination. Member of the WPM (World Poetry Movement) group. Descendant of the Purawa lineage and heir to the ancestral customary laws of the Xârâcùù countries (Purawa: a clan that resisted the colonisation of French lands and took part in the uprising of 1878.

Mathias C. Pfund, artist and art historian


March 2 2024 – Examination and conclusion

Dr. Claire Brizon / Patricia Simon, M.A.

Dr. Sara Petrella, scientific collaborator at UniFR and artistic coordinator at the Indigenous Peoples' Research and Information Centre

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