Meet the collector: Professor Lotte Meinert. “Collecting makes you ask different questions”

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Africa
Meet Professor in Anthropology at Aarhus University, Lotte Meinert! Our intern Iana Lukina has interviewed Lotte about the collections she made during her numerous fieldworks in Northern Uganda.

Iana: How did you become a collector?

Lotte: The first question, I think, is: ‘Am I a collector?’ [laughing]. I guess as part of my fieldwork in Uganda, I have always been interested in materialities, but also immaterialities of course, histories, stories.

Iana: Why and how was the soil sample collected?

Lotte: The soil? [laughing]. Yes, that one. We were doing this project on death and time and I was becoming more and more interested in land and soil. I was really fascinated by some of my interlocuters who said that their ancestors are always with us, they are in the soil actually. And then I had to make a presentation in Oslo with this project. We were supposed to bring something from the field, I had thought it would be interesting to bring some soil and let people touch it. It turned out to be quite complicated because soil is something that you can’t just bring over borders, it had to be frozen and it had to become an item in a museum and have a number, and taking it to Oslo was also complicated. There were some, an archaeologist or anthropologist, who were very upset and said to me: “Do you know that you could be arrested for taking soil across borders? This could be very, very dangerous!” But it had been frozen, so it should be okay. During the presentation I was reading my paper, I took little handfuls of soil and passed it around so that the soil would pass through people’s hands while I talked about how my interlocutors perceive it as the ancestors. And some people didn’t want to touch it. But I thought it was a nice experience and example of how handling and touching materialities can really make a difference. Many people came up to me afterwards and said that they didn’t hear a word of what I was saying, because they were just completely fascinated with this red soil in their hands.

EA901-11 Soil sample

Iana: Are there any remarkable stories of how you were collecting?

Lotte: This old man that I collected from recently… It was somehow very touching because I think both he and I had a feeling that it might be the last time that I would see him. I have known him for 10 years and heard many of his stories and he was getting very sick and I was collecting these items and these stories from him, and it was also somehow difficult or touching to ask if I could have his jacket. […]. It was difficult because it is really, really old and kind of stinks, it really smells like everything imaginable. But of course, to me it was really special, but I could see that he also felt a little bit like: “I wish that this wouldn’t represent my life. I wish I could give you something that looks smarter”. And then, when I came back in July this year, he had passed away. It makes the collection even more valuable to me because it is the last remains of his life and it reminds you that everything is really temporary. Life and things and so forth. But of course, also the collection of the forgiveness accounts; it was also very touching to hear people’s accounts of what had happen to them, and how they had forgiven people who had done terrible things to them, and what difference it made in their own lives that they had been so bitter about something and then had let it go. Those were also very touching stories.

The collection of the soil was really hilarious because people said: “Well, you can just take some soil. It doesn’t matter”. But when I asked people: “Can I come and take some soil from your compound here and bring it home, there were like: “Maybe not in our compound”. So, I just had to stop somewhere on the road and ask our driver if it was okay that I collected some dirt from the side of the road, which of course it was. That was just funny in a way.

Iana: When you are thinking about your collection now, if you would have done it now, would you have done something differently or are you satisfied with it?

Lotte: Well, since I don’t consider myself a very experienced and very organised collector, I think, I should be a little bit careful here. […]. I haven’t been very conscious about doing a collection. Maybe it would be nice to become a little more systematic. […] I think we have talked about my slim life as a collector [laughing]. It hasn’t been that much, but actually, I really like it. One thing that I have really enjoyed about making collections or participating in creating an exhibition: I think it is very interesting how these processes make you ask other kinds of questions in your research, in your fieldwork. So, it is not that we make a collection and then we represent that. It really does make you ask different questions, since the exhibition has to be concrete. I didn’t expect that. I have thought that was a really interesting way of doing research and asking new questions. But thank you for interviewing me, because now I am realising that I am a collector!

 

 

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putting thought to things

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