Becoming a Masterpiece? The "Batcham Mask" and its Display at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich
Abstract This chapter presents a critical discussion of the display of the so-called Batcham mask at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich in 2016, and links this to its reception and canonization in a Euro-American context. The mask’s masterpiece status and its decontextualized presentation are found to obscure parts of its biography. Many open questions remain concerning the object’s history before reaching Europe, its fabrication and intended purposes, but also the colonial circumstances surrounding its acquisition, its trading and subsequent entrance into the collection of Eduard von der Heydt, the founding donor of the museum. This chapter seeks to investigate these gaps in information and attempts to recontextualize the mask by redirecting the focus onto its ‘original’ context. Lastly, it explores possibilities for alternative approaches to discussing its history and contemporary display within a local environment.
Keywords Batcham / tsesah, Bamileke Mask, Masterpiece, Eduard von der Heydt, Provenance, Primitivism, Museum Display, Object Biography