Ms Sally Schonfeldt

PhD scholar

BA in Fine Arts (First grade Hons) (Zürich University of Arts, Zürich, Switzerland)

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Topic or working title

Voicing silent histories: Understanding the acquisition of Indigenous Australian human remains by Swiss collections

Abstract or summary

Sally’s current research interests are the history of museum collections, colonial history and decolonial historiography, restitution of cultural heritage and the repatriation of Indigenous human remains.

Panel members and positions

Primary Supervisor and Panel Chair:
Associate Professor Cressida Fforde, Deputy Director, NCIS


  • Dr Bernhard Schär, ETH Zürich.


Since 2014 Sally has been working as a full time artist based in Zürich, Switzerland. Her artistic practice is research based and predominantly concerned with examining colonially entangled histories and their ongoing legacies on the present. Using a decolonial approach to reflect on questions of the historical production of knowledge, the resulting film works and installations have been shown both nationally and internationally. The cross-disciplinary methodology employed in Sally’s artistic practice enabled her current Mphil research at the ANU and evolved out of a long term artistic research into Indigenous human remains being held in European institutions.

Sally Schonfeldt (*1983 in Adelaide, Australia, lives and works in Zurich) investigates in her artistic works how knowledge is produced and established. She questions who wields power over determining history and memory. By using historiography to question methods of knowledge production in relation to anti-colonial discourses and the position of women in history she repeatedly challenges Eurocentric historiographies. Schonfeldt shares the results of extensive archival research in experimental video essays, films, lecture performances or exhibition displays. Her works seek to generate alternative possibilities of interacting with history and contribute to the construction of new narratives in juxtaposition to those enshrined within the Eurocentric canon.

Schonfeldt has shown her work both nationally and internationally in various exhibitions and contexts including Plattenstrasse 10 (Shedhalle, Zürich; Helmhaus, Zürich), The Ketty La Rocca Research Centre (Istituto Svizzero, Roma), The Struggle within the Struggle (Tensta Konsthalle, Stockholm; Kunsthalle Zürich, Zürich; Upstate, Zürich), These remains will never return (Swiss Art Awards, Basel), We Demand! (Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau; Les Complices*, Zürich), Die Schweiz hat keine Kolonien, aber war Kolonial (Dienstgebäude, Zürich) and On the Anthropology of the Anthropological Institute (Helmhaus, Zürich).

In 2018 Sally commenced an MPhil at the ANU with the aim of tracing any Australian Indigenous human remains held within Swiss collections, understanding their history and examining how and why they were acquired. The research will be situated within a broader analysis and critique of the history of Swiss ethnological collections and within a critical awareness of the necessity of remains being returned to their rightful Indigenous Australian owners. The research is cross-disciplinary in its application to Indigenous studies, Swiss and Australian colonial history, Anthropology, museology and decolonial theory.

Updated:  19 August 2019/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer