Covert or overt Colonialism? Critical Interrogation for Reinterpreting Franz Binder Collection of Nilotic Material Culture

Franz Binder Museum from Sibiu, Romania, is the only “universal ethnography” museum in the country, even if scattered extra-european collections are hosted by other museums, as well. Under reorganization procedure since 2015, the museum faces the challenge to propose a more relevant message to its public, a challenge doubled by a potential “representation crisis” due to the fact that it is part of ASTRA National Museum Complex, an ethnographic institution presenting communities from Romania in their traditional dimension. Even if this region has never been a colonial rule overseas, I argue that not only the colonial dimension is embedded in the way museum’s initial collections were formed in late 19th and early 20th century, but also that this very dimension is something that has curatorial potential as the objects themselves, regardless of their intrinsic value. As a case study on one of the museum’s collections I propose to analyze the ways and the context in which the Franz Binder collection was formed - even if one out of many, this collection also gives the name of the museum. The objects were collected and brought in Sibiu from Binder’s voyages up the shores of the White Nile, an uncharted territory back in the 1860s. Received in Sibiu with great enthusiasm by the Transylvanian Society for Natural Sciences, as a “gift made by a prince”, the curatorial approaches of this collection so far, owned by several museums in Sibiu since its donation, have ignored as irrelevant the very condition of its formation. Since it was formed around the same time that anthropology was born as a science, I also analyze the relationship between postmodern anthropology and the world cultures museum from Sibiu, in the perspective of its reopening.

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