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Voices from the past now speak loud

The Franco-Namibia Cultural Centre (FNCC) in Windhoek is the final location for an international exhibition that deals with the disturbing history of audio and visual documents taken in southern Africa in the early 20th century. Entitled “What We See”, this exhibition is based on a collection of photographs, voice recordings, diaries and the results of anthropometrical registration that was envisaged to become an ‘archive of vanishing races’.
The Exhibition What We See, is a critical examination of the so called Lichtenecker archive. This archive was set up by the German artist Hans Lichtenecker who lived in Namibia before and during World War 1. He returned to Germany in 1931, to collect voices, facial casts and anthropometrical photographs of Africans and set up what he called an “archive of endangered races”.
In 2007 Anette Hofmann, who has a PhD in cultural and African studies, traced the voice recordings Lichtenecker took of people in Namibia in the Berlin Phonogramm Archive which is located in the ethnological Museum in Berlin-Dahlem. Not understanding the local languages, she asked native speakers to translate the recordings from 1931. Once the voices became heard they turned into testimonies of the treatment experienced by the men and women during the recordings, the cast making and the photoshootings. Many of the speakers protest fiercely against and complain about the practices and the violence they involved. By listening to the speakers they become social actors themselves and their testimonies bear witness of the violent and inhumane practices of the anthropometrical research methods and at the same time of the historical moment when this all happened.
Intrigued by the stories she heard, Anette Hoffmann decided to use the voice archive in combination with the photographs and Lichtenecker’s diary to look into the production of an anthropometrical archive and finally visualize this by developing an exhibition that was then shown in the IZIKO Slave Lodge in Cape Town, South Afrika, at the Basler Afrika Bibliographien in Switzerland, in the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus in Osnabrück (Germany), and finally at Humboldt-University in Berlin. The Franco-Namibia Cultural Centre in Windhoek is the final location for the show. The archival material of the exhibition will be donated to the National Archives in Windhoek and other institutions.

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