Short Portrait: Johanna Agthe

Johanna Agthe
Johanna Agthe

Johanna Agthe was born in Berlin in 1941. Her father was a publisher. Due to the turmoil of World War II her family had to flee to the Erzgebirge and eventually resettled in the Sauerland region.

Agthe finished secondary school in Hamburg and took up her studies of History in 1961. Two years later she moved to Göttingen and chose Anthropology to be her major subject at the Georg-August-University. In 1964/65 Agthe continued her studies at the Vienna University. Moreover, she held a student assistant position at the Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology in Göttingen in 1966/67.

Agthe graduated with a Ph D thesis on illustrations of travelogues to Oceania in 1968/69. She subsequently held a voluntary position at the Department for Southasia of the Ethnological Museum (formerly: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde) in Berlin. In 1970 Agthe took up an assistant position at the very museum.

Throughout the following years Agthe not only organized a large number of exhibitions (i.e., on Indonesian textiles and handicrafts), but also was the first person to chair the newly founded Junior-Museum section. Agthe furthermore worked at the Department for Africa of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, where she organized further exhibitions and edited a collection of East African amulets.

Throughout the years Agthe increasingly lay her regional focus on Africa and did research trips to the Eastern part of the continent but also to Sumatra. In 1971 she took up a position at the Museum for the Cultures of the World and became a custodian two years later.

During the following decades Agthe not only organized and supported a large number of exhibitions on contemporary African Art but also established a collection with works by many African artists of the postcolonial era.

From 1986 onward Agthe was deputy chairman of the museum, a position she held until her retirement in 2003. One of the major achievements of her work as a custodian was to emphasize the dialectic relationship between society and art.

Johanna Agthe died in 2005.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in July 2012, based on an obituary by Dieter Krämer, 2005, published at Journal-Ethnologie: (photo same source)

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