Praxes of the Transitory: Restitution, Museum Practice, and the (Im)material Cultural Heritage of the Tairona’s Descendants in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Project: Dissertation project

Project participants


This dissertation project centers on the recovery [Wi(e)der-Herstellung] of (im)material cultural heritage by the Tairona’s descendants—the Kággaba/Kogi, Ika/Arhuaco, Wiwa/Malayo, and Kankuamo/Atanque of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

The aim of this research is to map out a critique of the modern/colonial mode of thought and its attendant practices, thus interrogating prevailing concepts of identity, culture, property, and heritage while drawing on and legitimating alternative epistemological systems—such as those of the descendants of the Tairona. Starting from dialogue with the Kággaba of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, selected museums, and other experts within and beyond Colombia, knowledge contexts and a range of methods are linked together in a multi-perspectival approach.

The foundational hypothesis of this project is that conservational practices operate within the museum and exhibition contexts which can be traced back to the epistemology of modernity. These are contradicted by the modes of thought and action held among the descendants of the Tairona, whose notions are assumed to diverge fundamentally from the modern museum’s concept of the object. On this basis, the project will discuss a notion of objects as living entities; it is from this notion that the titular praxes of the transitory will be derived, as a proposed counter to praxes of the conservational.

Key to the project will be creating an inventory of the (im)material cultural heritage’s continued presence in museum collections worldwide; it will be on this basis that the provenances and meanings of the ‘objects’—and the forms and consequences of their translocations—are discussed. The aim is here to research the conditions that must be established for the cultural heritage’s future reconnection with and possible restitution to the descendants of the Tairona and, on this basis, to compile guidelines for similar processes.

This project is designed as an epistemic investigation of reconnection processes at the institutional, international, intercultural, legal, and ethical levels, considered in all their entanglements and incompatibilities. It will not only produce new conditions in which ethical relations can flourish; the aim is furthermore to identify transcultural and transdisciplinary perspectives and to contribute toward an academic and museum practice able to make critical interventions within a global, decolonializing context.
Short titlePraxes of the Transitory
Period01.10.22 → …