The CONteXT research project proposes to add to the - oftentimes scarce - knowledge available about the collection of Congolese wooden heritage objects housed at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, by allowing the objects themselves to speak through the analysis of their material history. By processing high resolution X-ray Computed microtomography (X-ray μCT) scans of one hundred Congolese objects, information can be deduced non-invasively about the objects’ original context and history. The knowledge extracted from the scans will help the heritage experts in the museum gain a better understanding of the cultures they study: how the objects in the collection were constructed, which materials were incorporated, and how the objects were used. The research will also aid the conservators of the museum to gain insight into the ageing processes of materials, the susceptibility of the materials to changes in different environments and into any old conservation treatments used for the preservation of objects; ultimately to improve the care and preservation of the objects in the collection.
Through the study of material clues, the CONteXT project hopes to bring about a comprehensive understanding of the objects’ material, which is inextricably linked to the understanding of cultural meaning and cultural value of the object: the context of the object. To reconstruct this comprehensive context, the project will engage with members from the objects’ source communities in a knowledge exchange network. In collaboration with heritage researchers, creators or users from the Democratic Republic of Congo and from the Belgian diaspora, the project aims to gain an in-depth understanding of the objects’ material and immaterial context. The network will also facilitate open discussion about the, often overlooked, ethical questions that arise when studying African heritage objects. Through the partnership with the objects’ source communities, CONteXT will collect perspectives on sampling, visualising and exposing sensitive or secret information of African heritage objects.