Vinyago: Dancing Beyond Colonial Biographies engages with the East African mask collection of the Ethnological Museum Berlin. It encompasses an exhibition, dance, live music and video installation, all in an effort to examine various facets of the Ethnological Museum’s collection and its implications for questions of cultural memory, restitution, and colonial legacy. More importantly, the project channels the voices of artists, cultural practitioners, activists, dancers and musicians from Tanzania and Berlin to explore what it means to move beyond the grasp of colonial legacy.
The masks from the East African collection form part of this collection. Like many of the collections, these masks are away from the context of their creation and communities of origin, locked behind glass cabinets and removed from the integral social and spiritual functions of their creation. More than their physical location, they stand as a proxy for an exploitative colonial system of thinking and knowledge production, the legacy of which can be traced to today’s economic and geopolitical asymmetric power relations between Germany and its former colonies.
Performers from Tanzania enter the Humboldt Forum and interact with both masks from 100 years ago (albeit still behind glass), as well as masks recently made in Tanzania (which they wear and dance with in the space). As black bodies entering a white space–one that still carries traces of colonial violence and is symbolic of German imperial fascination–reflection on the question of power asymmetries is critical. Even more important is thinking about our own part in carrying forward–with words and movement, music and imagery–the search for a place beyond the grip of colonial legacies. This project is a starting point for venturing into addressing the various aspects of colonial legacy. Moving–dancing–beyond the bounds of colonial narratives, beyond colonial biographies.