Grace Ndiritu
Healing the museum (2012 - ongoing)

The Healing Pavillion, Grace Ndiritu, 2022 Photo credit Steven Pocock, Wellcome Collection

About The Healing Pavillion :
“‘The Twin Tapestries’ are based on archival images from Wellcome Collection and the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, titled ‘Repair (1915)’ and ‘Restitution (1973)’, respectively. They ask what has changed since these photographs were taken and reveal violent pasts and hidden power dynamics at the foundation of Western museology, while reflecting attitudes and practices towards African objects in many European museum collections.”

The Twin Tapestries: Repair (1915), Grace Ndiritu, 2022. Tapestry, 200 x 300 cm. © Grace Ndiritu. Photograph: Steven Pocock, Wellcome Collection.

“The first tapestry is based on a photograph taken in 1915, depicting junior members of staff of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. They are posing with human remains and collection objects from the Global South, including masks and skulls. The sitting was staged in a gallery titled, ‘Hall of Primitive Medicine’, displaying predominantly non-European objects categorised based on theories that othered, exoticised and marginalised the cultures they described. A century later, though many objects in question are transferred to institutions around the world, Ndiritu’s work calls for action needed to repair the history of the collections at Wellcome and across European museums.”

The Twin Tapestries: Restitution (1973), Grace Ndiritu, 2022. Tapestry, 200 x 300 cm. © Grace Ndiritu. Photo: Steven Pocock, Wellcome Collection.

The second tapestry is based on an archival photograph, believed to be an informal staff portrait taken in 1973 one day after work at the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, almost 60 years after that of ‘Repair (1915)’. In the centre of the image is the Mandu Yenu throne, on which the museum staff are sitting and leaning. A royal throne from the Kingdom of Bamum in Cameroon, this object demanded respect and signified power in its original context. It is currently on display at the Humboldt Forum, Berlin. The throne’s contested history and future are still under discussion in Germany.

Faces of those depicted in the original photograph have been digitally altered to shift attention away from the specific identities of the sitters. By focusing directly on the interaction between the staff and the objects, Ndiritu asks instead what restitution for a history such as this might look like.”

︎ Check also the show Healing the musem by Grace Ndiritu at S.M.A.K. (01/04/23 > 10/09/23)
Healing The Museum is part of Grace Ndiritu’s long-term research project of the same name, which she initiated in 2012 as a response to the spiritual decline in cultural institutions.