Decolonization, restitution, memory and photography as an instrument of power: Sara-Lena Maierhofer’s project „Kabinette“ explores these thematic fields. The series of works are the result of her research on colonial-era artefacts in ethnological collections in Germany and Europe. Which objects can be found here and how are they systemized and archived? The artist experimented with various approaches, mixing analog and digital techniques resulting in three-dimensional sculptures, photograms and collages.
In recent years, the public discussion about the legacy of European colonialism and the associated representations in museums has intensified. How can photography make this discourse visible? Based on this question Sara-Lena Maierhofer created scaled-down models of ethnographic museums. Coated with photo emulsion and then exposed with photographs of various artefacts from the specific collections. The resulting photographic objects consist of a description of the place, a photograph of an object and its fragmentary inscription onto the surface, reflecting the complexity of its origin. In the second part of the work the artist explores the depots and storage units of the museums. Which objects can be found here and how are they systematized and archived? Using the documentary photographs she took on site as a template, Maierhofer built exact replicas of the shelves, drawers and trays in their original size in the color lab. The outcome are negative copies in the form of color photograms: Imprints of light from the collections, in which only the shadows of the objects remain visible. In a further step, the artist investigates the question when does an object becomes art? And how did Non-Western art influence the European avant-garde?
Maierhofer creates playful photograms appropriating Cubist, Fauvist or Expressionist artists like Matisse, Picasso or Nolde. She takes cut-outs of their paintings or sculptures and presents them on pedestals or plinths as used in the presentation of artefacts in ethnological museums.