Bangka doll, from Sumatera,
24 September 2020

Caring Matters

CONFERENCE | 21 - 24 Sept | Online or 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 will host a workshop that is titled “Caring Matters.” Our hope is that this workshop, like the Taking Care project as a whole, will open museums up to contribute more critically to how we understand the brutal legacies of colonialism on our earth and learn to better pay attention to the wisdom that peoples the world over have nurtured, adapted, and applied to dealing with such violence. Indeed, our hope is to fashion more caring and careful museum practices. Central to these speculations is to ask how to do this without re-inscribing earlier exploitative orders and imperial rights.

The conference will consist of both closed and public events and panels. The program is below and shall be constantly updated. **Check in a couple of days prior to the conference for instructions as to how to livestream the panels and workshops

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: Bangka doll, from Sumatera, Bangka Island, Indonesia. The puppet was probably used to represent workers in a tin mine, put on display at Paris World's Fair of 1878. Probably the doll held a tool in its hands. (NMVW Collection: RV-300-1135b)

Concept and critical inquiries

Whichever form our event or intervention takes at the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, 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 and craftspeoples, as we also preserve objects? 
  6. 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?


Thursday 17 September

15:00 - 16:30 CET | CONVERSATION | Thinking With | Olívia Maria Gomes da Cunha | The Things of Others | Online, open to public 


Monday 21 September

15:00 - 16:30 CET | PANEL | Caring Matters | Environmental Justice | Online, open to public

16:45 - 17:45 CET | WORKSHOP with Taking Care partners (hybrid format)


Tuesday 22 September  

15:00 - 16:30 CET | CONVERSATION | Thinking With | Macarena Gómez - Barris | The Extractive Zone | Online, open to public 


Wednesday 23 September

12:30 - 13:30 CET | PANEL | Caring Matters | Endangerment | Online, open to public 

13:45 - 14:45 CET | WORKSHOP with Taking Care partners (hybrid format)


15:00 - 16:00 CET | PANEL | Caring Matters | Extraction | Online, open to public 

16:15 - 17:15 CET | WORKSHOP with Taking Care partners (hybrid format)


Thursday 24 September

10:00 - 12:00 CET | PANEL | Caring Matters | Healing Materialities | Online, open to public 

12:15 - 13:15 CET | WORKSHOP with Taking Care partners (hybrid format)

15:00 - 17:00 CET | CLOSED TECHNICAL MEETING with Taking Care partners (hybrid format)


In lead-up to Caring Matters, please join us for events in our Thinking With conversation series, notably on July 17, 2020: Thinking With | Arturo Escobar | Pluriversal Politics. Recorded Webinar events that already have taken place may be screened or listened to here.

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


For the Caring Matters conference, 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, each of the partner organizations of the Creative Europe grant TAKING CARE - Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care have chosen objects, objects which speak to the concepts of Environmental Justice, ExtractionEndangerment, and Healing Materialities. These titles correspond to each of our conferences sessions. Our objects come from ways of thinking the world that often engage the notion of togetherness and healing 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. Caring Matters seeks 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