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Ethnic Arts Gent Protest

Antwerp June 4, 2007. By David Norden, photos Sylvie Verhaeghe

A few days ago I received an email from teachers at the University of Gent. 

The rector want to close the Museum and stop the "Master in Ethnic Arts" lessons. 

I visited the Museum and must tell it is a wonderful one with a few masterpieces and it should be save from closure.

I certainly will recommend it for those willing to learn Ethnic Arts in Belgium (but they should of course be able to speak Flemish).

See the images below and sign the Online petition if you don't agree with the rector decision.

David Norden

ethnic Arts Gent Museum - Africa section

I would like you to sign the following Online petition .

The Ethnic Art lessons department and the Museum with Oceanic, African and Indian Art from the Gent University was created by Olbrechts 80 years ago and had many famous names related to it's students like A.Claerhout, F. Olbrechts and Daniel P. Biebuyck.

This institution should not be closed on decision of the rector.  

sign online at the petition 

O write the rector to explain him why you think he is taking a wrong decision at


Rectoraat van de Universiteit Gent

Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 25

B-9000 Gent


fax 09/264.35.97


Save Ethnic Arts Gent. 
Sign the petition!

You can also write the teachers at

Faculteit Letteren & Wijsbegeerte
tav. de docenten Etnische Kunst
Blandijnberg 2
9000 Gent

The Ghent University has chosen to stop teaching ethnic arts to her art students. Ethnic arts not only include the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, but also handle European folk art and the developments in modern art around the world. 

More importantly, the Master in Ethnic Arts at the Ghent University is unique in Europe. To cancel this option will mean a great loss for the University and art studies in general. Don't let the Ethnic Arts Students and Museum disappear.

Online petition
Petition form (pdf)
Information about petition (pdf)


This beautiful museum will close if you don't react and the students will be without teachers, and will have to choose another direction, click on the image below and sign the petition. Don't forget to put a comment and mention if you have some activity in the Ethnic field. 

Hope this will help,

David Norden

Geachte Heer Rector Van Cauwenberge,

Als eigenaar van een Belgische website over Afrikaanse kunst met 6000 bezoekers per week sta ik versteld dat jullie er zelf aan durven denken de afdeling Ethnische kunst te sluiten !

Terwijl de Ethnische kunsten hoge topen bereiken op veiling; nog net werd een Benin hoofd in New York voor 4.5 millioen dollars verkocht. 

En in Frankrijk en buitenland tientallen museums hun deuren openen voor Ethnische kunsten die in hun kelders verstopt waren en nieuwe Ethnische kunst afdelingen opstarten (bv. Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam openden net terug hun Afrika afdeling). Er zijn er ook twee spiksplinter nieuwe museums in de steigers in Frankrijk (miljoenen euros projecten zoals Musée des Confluences in Lyon ) nadat de museum van de Quai Branly 1 millioen bezoekers per jaar aantrekt sinds zijn opening vorig jaar. 

Ik zie ook dat beurzen met Etnische kunsten meer en meer bezoekers en deeelnemers aantrekt wat ook voor werkgelegenheid kan zorgen voor studenten die deze richting zouden kiezen. Volgende week zullen er meer dan 150 handelaren hun waren tonen in Brussel . De laatste jaren werden er ook nieuwe Ethnische beurzen geopend in Nederland ( Exota, en de Duif) en in Duitsland door de stijgende vraag.

Daarom kan ik niet snapen dat jullie deze afdeling zouden sluiten, mijns inzien. 

Studenten moeten wel naast Nederlands liefst ook de Engelse en Franse taal spreken om een internationale carriere te kunnen bouwen, maar afgestudeerden zullen zeker hun weg vinden, werk genoeg. 


David Norden

Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2007
From: Annemieke Van Damme <vdammie>

Dear Sir, Madam, 

No doubt, you will already have heard about the 
planned closure of the section Ethnic Art at the 
Department of Art Sciences (University Ghent).

We sincerely hope you could support us in trying 
to go against this decision. You could do this by 
signing the petition list of the students : 

the English link can be found at: 

or by sending the letter in annexe (at the end 
of this page) whilst, at the same time, stating 
your function as well as your institution. This 
letter should be forwarded to: 

The Rector of the University,
Prof. dr. Paul Van Cauwenberge
Rectoraat van de Universiteit
Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 25
B-9000 Gent
Fax: #9/264.35.97  

It goes without saying that you are free to 
compose and send your own letter to the rector.

In the meantime, we would find it most agreeable 
if you could forward this mail to sundry 
specialists in the field who would support our 

Many thanks in advance.
Yours sincerely,
The lecturers in Ethnic Art
Dr. Geert Gabriël Bourgois
Dr. Annemieke Van Damme
Dr. Wilfried Van Damme
Dr. Pauline Van der Zee

Letter to be forwarded: 
Dear Rector, 

The unsettling news has reached me concerning the 
impending closure of the section Ethnic Art at 
the Department of Art Sciences within the 
University Ghent.

If anything, your university is known for the 
fact that at world level she has been the second 
institution within the world - and the first in 
Europe, to boot - to have had this speciality on 
the programme. Quite a few renowned art 
historians - employed at Belgian, as well as 
foreign museums and scientific institutions - 
have, over the years, received a sound and 
thorough training at this institution.

We sincerely question how a renowned tradition of 
nearly 70 years and one that has been built on 
the legacy of the renowned Prof. dr. Frans 
Olbrechts can be finished in such a way. Indeed; 
within this era of globalisation art is one of 
the aspects through which we can in fact 
highlight the values of non-western cultures.

With the present letter, I would therefore beg of 
you to reconsider the planned demise of this 
unique section at the Department of Art Sciences 
at your university.

Many thanks already in advance.
Yours sincerely

Some information about the Section Ethnic Art:
The Ethnic Arts department of the University of 
Ghent focuses on the study of the art of 
non-Western cultures. The approach of the 
department is relatively rare in the fact that it 
combines art history, ethnography and 
anthropology and molds it into one comprehensive 
study. It is also the only seminar in the Low 
Countries to offer a fully developed program to 
graduate students. The department has a 
long-established history that dates back to 1936 
when Prof. Dr. F.M. Olbrechts founded the 
'Seminar of Ethnology'.

It was Prof. Olbrechts who developed the 
so-called 'Belgian Method'. The method implies a 
thoughtful approach of the artifact, and focuses 
on the correlation between the object and its 
context. There's an emphasis on the aesthetic 
aspect of objects and they are considered as real 
works of art, rather than as cultural phenomena.

The aim of the department is to provide students 
with a theoretical framework while linking this 
to the methodology of ethnographical research. 
Another aspect of the seminar is its focus on 
museology. The University of Ghent has a 
collection of approximately 4000 ethnographical 
objects. Also the museum was founded by Prof. 

Most of the artifacts were acquired between 1905 
and 1939 and some of the pieces are truly unique. 
They are on display in a former cloister in the 
historical centre of Ghent, together with other 
objects from the collection. The seminar also 
possesses about almost 6000 books and a number of 
topic-related journals. It is probably the most 
extensive library in its field in Europe and 
includes publications from the last 100 years.

The department has established partnerships with 
a number of museums in Belgium and the 
Netherlands to give researchers and students the 
opportunity to use the resources. Jan Vansina, 
Daniel Biebuyck, Frank Herreman, Jan Debbauts and 
Costa Petridis are just a few of the 
internationally known scholars that are linked to 
the seminar. Various staff members of 
ethnographic museums were also educated at the 
University of Ghent.

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