Fragile Crown: the case for restitution of el Penacho to Mexico from the Vienna Weltmuseum
- Barber Lecture Theatre
- Arts and Law, Research
- Research seminar series 2016-17
Speaker: Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll (University of Birmingham)
Venue: Barber Lecture Theatre, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
This lecture reflects on a process of disalienation that drives repatriations, the performances, replications, and provenance research involved. In a case study I focus on the inbetweenness of ‘Montezuma’s Crown’ – el Penacho – which comes to stand for all museum objects, suspended in a shock-proof vitrine in the Weltmuseum in Vienna. While Mexican tourists press against the glass case, making a pilgrimage to see the crown as a way of connecting with a lost Aztec heritage, the uncertain provenance of the headdress makes this an ambiguous relic. The historical movement of the Penacho from Central America to Central Europe instead speaks of Austria’s thwarted imperial ambitions, while conservators’ insistence that the crown cannot be moved due to its fragility is now used as an excuse to rebuff demands by the Mexican government to repatriate it. I trace the various ways in which the Penacho straddles ontological and epistemological domains and how its suspension in the museum’s vitrine represents a metaphor for the political stalemate in which it is now caught. Relationships between art and ideology are refocussed through the lens of fascism, trauma, and colonial claims for restitution that refer to cases of Nazi looting. The lecture will present examples from contemporary art and museum practises that challenge notions of origin and forms of property ownership.
Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll is an artist and Professorial Fellow of Global Art History at the University of Birmingham. She is the author of the book Art in the Time of Colony, and related exhibitions that include Ore Black Ore in the Allegory of the Cave Painting at Extracity Antwerp; Investigated at Savvy Contemporary Berlin; Artists in Residence at the Pitt Rivers; Embassy Embassy at Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin. Her installations and texts have been exhibited and performed at the Venice Biennale, Institute of Contemporary Art London, Pesta Bonka Festival Indonesia, and the Marrakech Biennale. An expert in contemporary art and colonialism as well as the history of museums and collecting, she wrote her M.A. and Ph.D. at Harvard University about Aboriginal Art. She is an editor of the journal Third Text, and has also been the curator of various international exhibitions including Julie Gough: The Lost World (Part 2) which has just formed the basis of her most recent book The Important of Being Anachronistic: Contemporary Aboriginal Art and Museum Reparations.
She is currently completing an edited volume Botanical Drift: Economic Botany and its Plant Protagonists, and a book about the Immigration Detention Archive that she is adapting for the stage in a new commission from the Konzerttheatre Bern. She is also working on a book project that provides the basis for this lecture, Fragile Crown: Empire, Collection, Restitution, which is about the complexities of restitution arguments for the return of cultural property.