Collective conversation

Rematriation Rehearsals

On a Mesoamerican Skull Displayed in Leiden

Participants: Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba, Nadia Ñuu Savi and Mili Herrera
Location: Framer Framed, Amsterdam
Registration: via Stager (free)

Museums worldwide house artefacts that have been unlawfully acquired, either through (colonial) looting, theft, or trafficking. While there have been efforts in increasing guidelines on provenance research and restitution, the process remains complex, sensitive, and not always leads to desirable outcomes. Recent developments in 3D printing might present innovative and global approaches to address these issues. By creating almost identical copies and presenting the same object in various ways, 3D printing shows potential to engage with original artefacts while at the same time ensuring critical dialogues on restorative and reparative justice remain.

To explore how 3D printing can renegotiate issues concerning contested heritage in museums, researchers Dr. Naomi Oosterman (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Liselore Tissen (Leiden/Delft University), and artist Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba (Rijksakademie/Pressing Matter) have been studying the possibilities and ethical considerations 3D printing can offer. Some of the social art practice provocations initiated by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba – co-produced during his time as Pressing Matter artist-in-residence – have been the starting point of this conversation and provided the case central to this inquiry: an ancestral Mesoamerican human skull currently on display at the Wereldmuseum Leiden, the Netherlands (formerly known as Museum Volkenkunde). Over the past months, Daniel – along with poet Nadia Ñuu Savi and visual artist Mili Herrera – has co-facilitated visionary archaeology workshops with two Mixtec communities in Santa María Cuquila, Oaxaca (México) and Oxnard, California (USA), considering accessibility, co-creation, collaboration, and inclusion as main pillars during the process. During these workshops, children and young adults engaged with small 3D-printed skulls of the original “Leiden skull” where they were introduced to the story of the skull and how it travelled from Mexico to the Netherlands.

To continue this communal effort and expand the story with the 3D-printed skull in the future through forms of imagination, speculation and care, the research team invites Mixtec scholars Lic. Izaira López Sánchez (The Americas Research Network), Dr. Omar Aguilar Sánchez (Universidad Autónoma Comunal de Oaxaca) to hear their perspective on this discussion. The research team asks participants to join this conversation, exchange ideas, and remember our ancestors by celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) together.

More information


Introduction of the topic
Dr. Naomi Oosterman: A skull with multiple narratives
Dr. Omar Aguilar Sánchez: Reappropiation of the cultural memory of the Ñuu Savi
Izaira López Sánchez: The challenges of repatriation of our ancestors in the Ñuu Savi 
Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba: On visionary archeology
Liselore Tissen: The digital afterlife of the skull: ethical considerations & role of museums

Interactive audience discussion

Celebremos el Día de los Muertos! Including snacks and drinks


This event emerged from a larger research project entitled 3D reproduction methods in contested heritage (award granted by the LUCDH) to Liselore Tissen (Leiden University/Delft University) and Dr. Naomi Oosterman (Erasmus University Rotterdam). 

Pressing Matter investigates the potentialities of "colonial objects" to support societal reconciliation with the colonial past and its afterlives and to deal with conflicting claims by different stakeholders for these objects within museums. The project will connect fundamental theories of valuation and property to postcolonial debates on heritage to these societal debates and aims to develop and test, first, new theoretical models of value and ownership and, second, new forms of return that address but move beyond current approaches to heritage restitution, while developing a theory of object potentialities grounded in the entangled, multipolar histories in which colonial objects were collected, kept and made meaningful.


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