Tropical Dissonance:

Decolonizing knowledge through ethnographic archives

Tuesday 6th June 2017, 11am – 4pm, Tropenmuseum


The symposium was organized by Heterotropics, the Research Center for Material Culture, and the research collective KUNCI Cultural Studies Center (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) as a concluding event of their residency project at the Tropenmuseum.

Tropical Dissonance brought together scholars, curators and artists from a wide range of practices to explore the intersections between decolonial research, artistic practices and alternative knowledge production.

Focusing on the use of ethnographic objects, or more broadly colonial archives in imperial and post imperial knowledge formation, the symposium explored the multiple, often hidden, fractured legacies of this colonial past in the present and its impact on how we understand the world today.

The contributors discussed various methodologies of studying colonial archives and epistemologies, through different sensorial approaches and experiences.

During the symposium speakers addressed questions such as:

1 — If to study is understood as a practice of reflection that involves the interplay between learning and unlearning, what are the modes of study that we can utilize to better understand colonial pasts in the present? What modes of learning or unlearning should we employ to achieve a decolonial practice?

2 — How can we reclaim and reconfigure the ambivalence of colonial desire in its attempts to both “civilize” and “appropriate” otherness through representational economies of education, collection, dispossession and exhibition?

3 — How can we activate the ruins of ethnographic and archival gaze as a means to reorganize knowledge circulations between the tropics and the metropolis from the inside out?

4 — How do these shifting relationships affect the material life of objects (collection, commodity, archive, artefact) and practices of mediation (language, aesthetics, research)?

Tropical Dissonance started with a conversation between KUNCI and Wayne Modest (Head of the Research Center for Material Culture, which took as a point of departure, KUNCI’s observations, findings and questions generated over the six weeks of the residency.


11am – 12 noon

1. Introduction by Ferdiansyah Thajib (KUNCI) and Sara Giannini (curator of Heterotropics)

2. KUNCI in conversation with Wayne Modest,
Tropenmuseum Studio

1pm – 4pm

1. On Listening: Adam Bobbette, Carolyn Birdsall and Wendelien van Oldenborgh. Moderated by Syafiatudina.

2. On Looking: Pamela Pattynama, Paul Bijl, Wim Manuhutu. Moderated by Brigitta Isabella.

3. On Sensing: Fiky Daulay, Nuraini Juliastuti, and Pim Westerkamp. Moderated by Sara Giannini


Paul Bijl
(University of Amsterdam / KITLV)

Carolyn Birdsall
(University of Amsterdam)

Adam Bobbette
(University of Cambridge)

Sara Giannini
(curator of Heterotropics)

KUNCI Cultural Studies Center
(research artists collective)

Wim Manuhutu
(independent researcher and curator)

Wendelien van Oldenborgh
(visual artist)

Pamela Pattynama
(University of Amsterdam)

The whole program was broadcasted live on Radio KUNCI


1 — Intro + KUNCI in conversation with Wayne Modest
→ download

watch the video documentation

About Heterotropics#2

The Research Center for Material Culture in collaboration with the research platform Heterotropics invited KUNCI Cultural Studies Center to be Researchers in Residence at the Tropenmuseum for the period May – June 2017.

Heterotropics is curated by Sara Giannini in collaboration with TAAK. KUNCI’s residency project has been realized with the kind support of the Research Center for Material Culture, Amsterdamse Fonds voor de Kunst, and Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.