Exhibition | Prussian Palaces, Colonial Histories

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 7, 2023

Opening this summer at Charlottenburg Palace:

Prussian Palaces, Colonial Histories: Biographies and Collections
Schlösser. Preußen. Kolonial. Biografien und Sammlungen
Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, 4 July — 31 October 2023

Painting of two boys: one White and one Black

Antoine Pesne, Portrait of Prince Frederick Ludwig or Prince Frederick William of Prussia in a Garden Cart with Friedrich Ludwig (?) (Berlin: Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten; photo by Jörg P. Anders).

The former palaces and gardens of the Hohenzollern dynasty make Germany’s colonial past visible and tangible today. Attesting to this history is an 18th-century portrait of a young Black boy, possibly Fredrick Ludwig (1708 – date of death unknown), whose father was brought to the Berlin royal court through the slave trade. Another example is provided by the glass beads produced on Peacock Island that were used to purchase slaves and colonial trading goods. With a special exhibition at Charlottenburg Palace, the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg (SPSG) is facing the colonial histories of its collections.

Colonial practises and structures can be traced throughout earlier centuries, before German colonialism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as afterwards. In this light, the special exhibition is looking to explore the connection between Germany’s longer colonial history and how they persist today. Based on the scant information that has been preserved over time, the special exhibition attempts to reconstruct the biographies of people after they were forcibly brought to Berlin and Potsdam. These biographies highlight both the ways they were able to socially assimilate and how they resisted the conditions of their lives at court. In addition, the exhibition examines non-European works in the collections that have long been interpreted within strictly European frameworks. As a result, these works were culturally re-appropriated and alienated from their original uses.

The exhibition themes were developed together with various experts in a joint process over the course of five workshops. This special exhibition is part of the annual theme for 2023: “Elector—Emperor—Colonies.” Thus, the SPSG is taking an important step in its ongoing work on this theme that will continue beyond the coming year. This exhibition is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media under a resolution passed by the German Parliament.

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