Duval Carrié Monde des Ambaglos
From 2 November 2022

Taking Care & Re|Creating Kinship in the Ethnographic Museum in Europe

CONFERENCE | 2 - 4 November | RCMC, Leiden

As part of the international collaborative research project Taking Care - Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care, the Research Center for Material Culture is hosting a conference tentatively titled "Taking Care, Re|Creating Kinship in the Ethnographic Museum in Europe." Confirmed thinker-speakers include Ian Baucom, Mayanthi Fernando, Yuki Kihara, Jason De Léon, Audra Mitchell, Elia Nurvista, Juno Salazar Parreñas, Elizabeth Perry, Miriam Ticktin, Kathryn Yussof, and Carine Zaayman.

The conference will consist of mostly public events and panels. A first draft of the program will be announced in September, as well as instructions for attendance of the various parts of the three-day conference.

Taking Care Project

Taking Care - Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care, involves a set of speculative inquiries into the ways in which ethnographic and world cultures museums, their histories and their collections, can be refashioned to address the growing precarity of our planet and the plurality of our human and non-human world. The project starts from the acknowledgement that a complicit relationship exists between these kinds of museums and Europe’s colonial project. We are interested in “mining the museum”, connecting the objects within these collections to longer histories of resource extraction, of species extinction, of human and cultural degradation. At the same time, it takes these collections as possible sites for reimagining other more caring relationships, more careful futures. Central to these speculations is to ask how to do this without re-inscribing earlier exploitative orders and imperial rights.

Image: (NMVW Collection: AM-681-1c). This sculpture is part of an installation consisting of three boats with the name ; Le Monde des Ambaglos, which the now passed-over, J. Michael Dash, in referring to Édouard Glissant’s play Monsieur Toussaint (Seuil, 1961) describes as: “In this sea-borne ‘non-monde’ Toussaint converses with specters of the dead and the living on reprieve. It is perhaps no coincidence that the dead are, according to Haitian popular belief, all sea creatures, ambaglo” (Dash 2010, full article here). The notes from the NMVW Collection Archive note: “Mambo Inan is the mistress of all water sources and giver of life. The installation is closely linked to the migration issues facing artist Édouard Duval-Carrié in Miami (where he lives and works; he was born in Haiti). These three figures represent the core group that migrants invoke before leaving for the USA from Haiti. Mambo Inan has a Christian likeness in the Vièrge du Perpétuel Secours, the patroness of Haiti. She is highly revered by both Catholics and Vodouyizans.”

Concept and critical inquiries

Under the aegis of the directors of thirteen ethnographic museums throughout Europe, the Research Center of Material Culture at the National Museum of Worldcultures has been involved in an ongoing grant named Taking Care. Taking Care’s intellectual inquiry is to rethink the histories, practices and role of these museums, trying to, as it were, refashion them towards a different kind of ethics of practice in and for the present. As part of this process my colleagues and I have been thinking through questions of decolonisation and of care, mindful of course of the complexities that are entangled with both concepts. While our kinds of museums, at least in their European tenure, have often restricted themselves to narrow conceptions of the ethnographic and therefore of culture, we have been trying to push beyond these practices to think the human and more than human worlds together, and the role that the museum can play in addressing the current challenges of our shared world. Our hope is to challenge narrow use and conception of the Anthropocene, showing the more complex entanglement with our current planetary crisis with questions of colonialism and racism. The project also asks the questions:  

  • What could a caring and careful museum could look like?  
  • How might the recent theoretical explorations in thinking (radical) care and kinship, but also questions of climate justice, help us to inaugurate a different kind of museum? 

We have been interested in thinking whether care as an ethic and practice, may help us to push beyond object-oriented preservationist thinking, towards a museum guided by an urgency, and advocacy for better more just and equitable futures for the human and more than human life. We have also been interested in the ways ethnographic museums can help us think otherwise about questions of extinction. The project takes questions of care—and/as—kinship, with kinship-as-care as a fulcrum around which the conversation might pivot. Our intention with our programming is to create a space for collaborative speculation, to think together, about the museum, the world and possible more just and equitable futures.  

Whichever form our event or intervention takes at the National Museum of Worldcultures, our hope is to engage the following inquiries: 

  1. How might we think the museum’s histories and practices of collecting and displaying in rapport with colonialism’s destructive and extractive economies (i.e. mining, minerality, exploitation of the earth’s resources, both human and non-human)?
  2. What might such a turn do for museums as they become sites for fashioning more sustainable planetary futures?
  3. If indeed we take the objects of our collection as sources of knowledge, as treasures that hint to how we might better care for our planet, then how might we engage such knowledge without reproducing earlier forms of violence and extraction?
  4. How might we better center, dialogue with, and present the more reciprocal relationships between and among object, person, and indigenous and syncretic thought systems in such a way so as to avoid constantly reproducing Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s now well-known adage of ‘the Savage slot,’ so ingrained in European approaches to those who are not-understood-as-European?
  5. How do we care for knowledge holders, makers, artists, creators and craftspeoples, as we also preserve objects? 
  6. How do we understand 'the object' as an agent, a full member of the "intersubjective matrix" that binds inter-species life and cultures to each other? Souleymane Bachir Diagne offers the term "intersubjective matrix" (September 2021) as one better apt to denote the lives and memories contained  in what our museums refer to as "the object"? (See the end of this conversation, when Diagne discusses this question.)
  7. What does it mean to think about the condition in which these objects have been made, thinking perhaps about uneven distributions of labor and compensation from Marxian, neo-Marxian, and non-Marxian perspectives?

Confirmed speaker-thinkers

Audra Mitchell

Carine Zaayman

Elia Nurvista

Elizabeth Perry

Ian Baucom

Jason De Léon

Juno Salazar Parreñas

Kathryn Yussof 

Mayanthi Fernando

Miriam Ticktin

Yuki Kihara

Zheng Bo


The conference will consist of mostly public events and panels. A first draft of the program will be posted in September, as well as instructions for attendance of the various parts of the three-day conference.

taking care
Taking Care is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

Past work in the context of Taking Care

In an effort to pay closer attention to the contexts that surround the objects in our museums, but also the often painful contexts that have led to how they became part of our collections, in September 2020, each of the partner organizations of the Creative Europe grant TAKING CARE - Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care chose objects, objects which speak to the concepts of Environmental Justice, ExtractionEndangerment, and Healing Materialities. These titles correspond to the September 2020 conferences sessions. The chosen pieces come from ways of thinking the world that often engage the notion of togetherness and healing--creating "intersubjective matrixes," in the words of Souleymane Bachir Diagne (see end of this RCMC lecture)--in ways that might offer supplemental knowledge to how we work through our current environmental crisis. Often too, in their trajectory to our exhibit halls and depots, they have undergone a painful journey that includes the violent processes that silently undergird the very project of colonialism and its afterlives.The September 2020 Caring Matters sought to attend to the object, to care for it, to carefully interrogate the histories and heritages it implicates. We do not pretend to fix the past, but perhaps we can think through approaches to 'healing' that focus on the object and the contexts out of which we came to acquire it. You can read the visual columns here