Mobile Worlds

or The Museum of our Transcultural Present

April 13 – October 14, 2018/ MKG Hamburg

> Visiting

The exhibition “Mobile Worlds” draws inspiration from the collection housed at the Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. The MKG collection is in turn inspired by the great world exhibitions held in London, Paris and Vienna in the 19th-century. Now the world of the 19th century is passé, and with it the central position that the West has long claimed for itself. Even though our world knows many centers today, many Western museums still present themselves as though the traditional, museological division into geographies, nations, epochs, art and non-art were universally valid. (We know this has more to do with embarrassment than evil intent). Yet these simple classifications reflect nothing of the far-reaching interconnections and historical origins of our global present and prevents them from being shown, let alone comprehended.

“Mobile Worlds” is dedicated to objects that escape the established museum order—things that cannot be called either “modern” or “antique,” that are neither clearly “Chinese” nor “Persian.”

Our exhibits come from a transcultural, intermediate realm that emerged from the exchange relationships between North and South, East and West. This intermediate realm knows no cultural identity. Indeterminacy rules here—an uncertainty that gives the objects room to take on an eventful life of their own. (This is not to say that the things have no meaning at all—only that their meanings are fluid).

“Mobile Worlds” elevates this indeterminacy to method: Our exhibition is not based on a central thesis, on a subject or coherent narrative. Instead it follows the formal affinities and historical relationships between things in a partly research-minded, partly speculative, partly extravagant, partly precise way.

Important insights for this come from artists and other experts of our transcultural everyday life who succeed in linking disparate realities and bridging depths of meaning.

“Mobile Worlds” is for a museum that does justice to the social, cultural and political complexity of our global present. This means revealing connections that lie both within and beyond practiced patterns of thinking and perception.

New Museum Departments v

Dissolving established concepts means facing the challenge of arranging things in a new way—after all, our museum cannot go without order altogether. The departments in “Mobile Worlds” stem from a working process. They reflect the peculiarities of the collection, but they also correspond to the aesthetic preferences, political sensitivities and particular interests of the actors involved. In short, these new departments mark the points where the travel routes of things, people, practices, and ideas intersect.


J.H. Dimpfel, Hamburg merchant, ivory, 18th cent. (MKG)

Ivory, obtained from the tusk of the dead elephant, has been a highly sought-after material since time immemorial. It has been used in many cultures to create religious objects, jewelry, but also secular carvings. Ivory was reasonably rare and therefore valuable until European colonial powers appeared on the African continent, when the use of firearms in elephant hunting, modern transport logistics and capitalist calculus changed the material’s status. It was subsequently introduced to Europe en masse (about 800 tons per year in the late 19th century), where it was used to produce billiard balls, piano keys and the like.

Meiji and Later

Kimono pattern, early 20th cent. (private collection)

Japan saw the dawn of a new era when US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry steered his warships into Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay). On a mission from the US government, he demanded that Japan give up its self-imposed isolation and open to trade with the West.

Japan could not compete with Western technology in the mid-nineteenth century. At the same time, the country’s elite were aware of the brutality the Western powers inflicted on the Chinese empire. And so reformers around Emperor Meiji opted for a radical, forward-looking modernization that would change all aspects of Japanese life: from the form of government itself to the administrative apparatus, the military, education, and even a dress code.

It is difficult to gauge the collective effort this required within Japan. At the same time, Japan imitated Western imperialist policy and began to incorporate parts of East Asia. The victory in the war against Russia, a conflict that took place around Manchuria and Korea in 1904/05, underscored Japanese ambitions to act on equal footing with the Western powers from now on.

Trade with China

Shard with Chinoiserie, Meissen, 18th cent. (MKG)

For centuries Europeans pondered, tried out and struggled to come to grips with the mystery of a fascinating material—until an alchemist at the Saxon court at the beginning of the 18th century succeeded in inventing it: European porcelain, finally!

Silk and tea were also in high demand in Europe. The latter inspired the British to embark on an act of biopiracy when botanist Robert Fortune, disguised as Chinese, gathered tea plants and shipped them to India in sealed glass containers to grow them on the slopes of the Himalayas (Darjeeling).

This greed for Chinese products led to enormous trade deficits on the part of the West. This was compounded by the fact that the Chinese showed little interest in European goods— except for automated machines and watches. History has shown that gigantic trade deficits are settled with wars. Such was the case with the so-called “Opium Wars” in the middle of the 19th century.

China has been ruled by a single party since 1949, after the collapse of the Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, a brief republican phase, the Japanese occupation and a civil war. The economic reforms or “Four Modernizations” initiated in the late 1970s moved the “Middle Kingdom” more and more towards the center of world affairs.


Zal Meets Rudaba, Persian miniature, 14th cent. (Wikicommons)

Rapunzel, a familiar figure from Brothers Grimm fairy tales, has many role models. Among them is an old character from Persian legend: Rūdāba, princess of Kabul. Her long braid enabled her (secret) lover Zāl to ascend to her chamber.

Despite its intimate nature, hair is neither a private affair nor a mere ornament. It is associated with social added value. In almost every culture, there are implicit or explicit rules that dictate whether and what hair you can show, which hairstyles are legitimate for whom, and what hair is commonly recognized as beautiful.

Thus, hair can be used politically. It can express resistance to the prevailing order (such as the “Afro” hairstyle that was popular during the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s).

Afro Brazil

Dom Smaz: The Krull Brothers (Black Helvetia), 2015

Transatlantic triangular trade brought millions of slaves from the West African coast to Bahia in northern Brazil. They toiled on enormous sugar and coffee plantations, built Baroque churches for the Portuguese colonial rulers and coined new forms of culture such as Capoeira, a martial art technique disguised as dance.

Some Bahia plantation owners were Germans and Swiss immigrants, such as Hamburg-born consul Peter (Pedro) Peycke. His descendants have the last name “Krull” and live in the town of Helvécia, which is part of a former coffee plantation.

Slaves who managed to return to West Africa used the artisanal know-how they had acquired in Brazil. Consequently, many mosques on the West African coast include features specific to the Portuguese Baroque style.

A Ship Will Come

Adnan Softić: Bibby Challenge, 2015

Sailing ships, steamboats, container ships—shipping routes are the backbone of global trade (not that you would have to tell anyone in Hamburg that). And yet transport ships still carry many interesting things besides ordinary merchandise: fat tarantulas in banana boxes, plundered bronze masks from the Benin Empire, opium pipes from the collapsed Qing Dynasty, worn-out car tires and electro-technology from German lands, but also… people. Their lives on deck keep their own rhythm marked by departure and return. This was reported by artist Adnan Softić, who lived on the “Bibby Challenge,” a kind of floating refugee home on the Elbe River.


Cabinet door, India/Kashmir, late 19th cent. (MKG)

Once again we see a pattern that is something of a mystery. What is the design supposed to represent? A curved leaf? A flame? A bent cypress? Boteh traces its historical roots back to ancient Asia Minor. The earliest examples were found on silk scraps discovered along the Nile in Upper Egypt. The pattern was as widespread in modern-day Afghanistan as it was in the former North Indian kingdom of Kashmir. Yet most people nowadays know it as paisley, the name of a Scottish town. How can that be?

After the British had chased the Mughal rulers to the Indian subcontinent, their paramilitary trading companies brought cloth and scarves with boteh motifs to London. These textiles were intended for rulers and infinitely precious. So they were copied by Scottish weavers and mass produced using mechanical jacquard looms.

Early European weavers created just two colors (indigo and madder) and later, thanks to technical tricks, at least up to five, but the punch card technology invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard permitted up to fifteen colors. (This is no reason to brag; the original cashmere scarves easily contained at least four times as many).

Hamburg and its Surroundings

Hermann Haase's sketchbook, around 1900 (MKG)

The ethnological collection was born in the heyday of imperialism and colonialism. Commercial travelers, soldiers, researchers and private collectors happily journeyed to “faraway lands” and took with them anything that was not nailed down—including everyday objects, religious objects or even human remains. The circumstances under which these things came into their possession has been rarely documented. It is clear that many objects were taken illegally and absorbed into ethnological collections—including the bronzes that a British “punitive expedition” robbed from the royal palace in Benin City (Nigeria) in 1897 and brought to the European market. Justus Brinckmann, the founding director of the MKG Hamburg, purchased the first bronze head for his museum collection that same year. Unlike many of his colleagues who sought to prove the genuine “primitiveness” of African artifacts, Brinckmann was deeply impressed by the high artistic quality of the Benin bronzes.

And yet it wasn’t just “foreign” cultures that Brinckmann was interested in: In light of the massive waves of urbanization and modernization at the turn of the century, he became passionate about documenting the traditional culture of the Hamburg countryside, which was threatened with extinction. He had a particular interest in the Vierlande area. Working with considerable dedication, he not only accumulated a stately collection of Vierlande cabinets, chests and costumes, but also commissioned in-house draftsman Hermann Haase, an extremely conscientious watercolorist, to capture the material culture of the Vierlande area in images.

Team v

Visiting v

Opening Times:
Opened Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm, Thursday to 9 pm..

Entrance fee:
12 euros, concessionary entrance fee: 8 euros, thursdays after 5 pm: 8 euros
Free admission for children and young adults up to 18 years old

Detailed visitors information on the MKG website.

For events on the exhibition Mobile Worlds see our calendar.

20099 Hamburg

T.: +49 (0)40 428134-880
F.: +49 (0)40 428134-999


Dr. Sophia Prinz
Head of Research/ Coordinator

Julia Lerch-Zajączkowska
Research Assistant (Exhibition)

“Mobile Worlds” is a cooperation between the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG), the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Goethe University in Frankfurt a.M. and the Erich Kästner School in Hamburg-Farmsen. Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Johann Jacobs Museum Zurich.

Information in accordance with section 5 TMG

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
20099 Hamburg

Represented by
Udo Goerke
Telefon: +49 40 428 134-100

Person responsible for content in accordance with 55 Abs. 2 RStV
Dr. Sophia Prinz

Concept and Production: Timo Meisel, Wanda Wieczorek


Accountability for content
The contents of our pages have been created with the utmost care. However, we cannot guarantee the contents’ accuracy, completeness or topicality. According to statutory provisions, we are furthermore responsible for our own content on these web pages. In this context, please note that we are accordingly not obliged to monitor merely the transmitted or saved information of third parties, or investigate circumstances pointing to illegal activity. Our obligations to remove or block the use of information under generally applicable laws remain unaffected by this as per §§ 8 to 10 of the Telemedia Act (TMG).

Accountability for links
Responsibility for the content of external links (to web pages of third parties) lies solely with the operators of the linked pages. No violations were evident to us at the time of linking. Should any legal infringement become known to us, we will remove the respective link immediately.

Our web pages and their contents are subject to German copyright law. Unless expressly permitted by law (§ 44a et seq. of the copyright law), every form of utilizing, reproducing or processing works subject to copyright protection on our web pages requires the prior consent of the respective owner of the rights. Individual reproductions of a work are allowed only for private use, so must not serve either directly or indirectly for earnings. Unauthorized utilization of copyrighted works is punishable (§ 106 of the copyright law).

Protecting the security and privacy of your personal data is important to us. Therefore, we process personal data in compliance with applicable laws on data protection and data security.

The following details provide an overview of what happens to your personal data when you visit our website We will inform you what your rights are regarding this data, and how, when and for what purpose we collect it.

Personal data is all information with which an individual can be personally identified. When using this site, personal data will only be collected which is necessary for the operation of the site, in this case, IP addresses and, in case you order our newsletter, e-mail adress. We treat your personal data confidentially in accordance with the legal data protection regulations as well as in accordance with this privacy policy.

We would like to point out that data transmission on the Internet, for example, communication by e-mail, can have security gaps. A complete protection of data against access by third parties is not possible.


Responsible body 

The “Responsible body” is the natural or legal person who, alone or together with others, decides on the purposes and means of processing personal data. He is your contact for all questions concerning the administration of your rights. The responsible body for data processing on this website is:

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
20099 Hamburg

Vertreten durch:
Udo Goerke
Telephone: +49 40 428 134-100

What rights do you have regarding your data?

Right to information

You have the right to receive information about the origin, recipient and purpose of your stored personal data free of charge at any time.

Right to data transferability

You have the right to have data, which we automatically process with your consent, handed over to yourself or to a third party in a common, machine-readable format. If you request the direct transfer of the data to another person, this will take place if it is technically feasible.

Right to correction, blocking and deletion

You also have the right to request the correction, blocking or deletion of your data. Please contact the responsible office. Any deletion does not include the data that we are obliged to keep for administrative, legal or security reasons.

Right of revocation

Many data-processing operations are only possible with your express consent. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. An informal e-mail sent to the responsible body is sufficient. The legality of the data processing up to the time of the revocation remains unaffected by the revocation.

Right of appeal to the responsible supervisory authority

In the event of a data protection law breach, you have the right of appeal to the responsible supervisory authority. The responsible supervisory authority for data protection issues is the state data protection officer of the federal state in which our company is based. A list of data protection officers and their contact details can be found at:

Details on data collection and handling

Automatically collected data

The web space provider for (ALL-INKL.COM – Neue Medien Münnich, Hauptstraße 68,  D-02742 Friedersdorf, Telephone: +49 35872 353-10, collects and stores information that your browser automatically transmits in so-called server log files. This includes:

  • Browser type and browser version
  • operating system used
  • referrer URL
  • Hostname of the accessing computer
  • Time of the server request
  • IP address (made anonymous)

This can be used to generate statistics on user behaviour, as far as the database permits. This data will not be combined with any other data sources. The basis for processing data is Art. 6 para. 1 lit. f DSGVO, which permits the processing of data for the fulfilment of a contract or pre-contractual measures.

Secure file transfer of actively provided data

This website does not transfer any data provided actively by its users. Thus an encryption via SSL or TSL is not required.


This website does not use cookies.

Integration of third-party services

Third-party services that provide certain code resources are used to display this site. These are so-called Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), through which, for example, design frameworks, code libraries and fonts are obtained. This always requires that the providers of these services perceive the IP address of the users because without the IP address they could not send the services to the browser of the respective user. We endeavour to use only those services whose respective providers use the IP address only for delivery. However, we have no influence on whether the third party providers store the IP address, for example for statistical purposes. If we become aware of this, we will inform users about it or, depending on the technical possibilities, make the IP anonymous.

The following CDNs are used on this page:

  • Bootstrap via
  • JQuery via
  • Google Fonts via
  • Popper via

Integration of third-party content

Articles on this website may include embedded content, for example, videos, images, contributions, infographics etc. Embedded content from other websites behaves exactly as if the user had visited the other website. These websites may collect information about you, use cookies, embed third-party tracking services and record your interaction with that embedded content if you have an account and are logged at this time.

Newsletter and operation of newsletters via MailChimp

Our e-mail newsletters are sent via MailChimp which is a technical service provided by The Rocket Science Group, LLC, 512 Means Street, Ste 404 Atlanta, GA 30318. When registering for our newsletter, the data you provide (e-mail address) will be passed on to MailChimp and stored there. After registering you receive an e-mail by MailChimp to confirm your subscription (“double opt-in”). MailChimp offers extensive instruments to analyse how newsletters are being opened and used. These analyses refer to user groups and are not used by us for individual assessment.

The data protection regulations of MailChimp can be viewed at

Safety Precautions

We take appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure a level of protection appropriate to the risk, taking into account the state of the art, implementation costs and the nature, scope, circumstances and purposes of processing as well as the different probability of occurrence and severity of the risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, in accordance with Art. 32 DSGVO.

Such measures include in particular ensuring the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data by controlling physical access to the data, as well as the access, input, transmission, security of availability and its separation. Furthermore, we have established procedures to ensure the exercise of rights of data subjects, deletion of data and reaction to the endangerment of data. Additionally, we consider the protection of personal data during the development or selection of hardware, software and procedures, in accordance with the principle of data protection through technology design and data protection-friendly presets (Art. 25 DSGVO).

Legal Basis

In accordance with Art. 13 DSGVO, we inform you of the legal basis of our data processing. If the legal basis is not mentioned in the data protection declaration, the following applies: The legal basis for obtaining consent is Art. 6  para. 1 lit. a and Art. 7 DSGVO, the legal basis for processing for the performance of our services and performance of contractual measures as well as for answering inquiries is Art. 6 para. 1 lit. b DSGVO, the legal basis for processing to fulfil our legal obligations is Art. 6  para. 1 lit. c DSGVO, and the legal basis for processing to protect our legitimate interests is Art. 6  para. 1 lit. f DSGVO. In the event that the essential interests of the data subject or another natural person require the processing of personal data, Article 6  (1)(d) DSGVO serves as the legal basis.