Dreams of Science and Progress Haunt Shuttered Lab

In a postcolonial research station in Tanzania, a photographer sees the promise of the past—and hopes that never quite came true.

On a hilltop in northeastern Tanzania, high up in the Usambara Mountains, memories are tangible things. Modernist buildings litter the lush jungle. European trees and medicinal plants, affixed with Latin labels, mingle with local species. Scientific instruments and a fully stocked library are poised for use.

This is what’s left of the Amani Hill Research Station—a past vision of the future, suspended in time. It’s also what brought Siberian photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva to East Africa two years ago. Her aim? To document the nostalgia that lingers here and create images that “bring back the atmosphere of this dark, magical place.”

Arbugaeva worked closely with Wenzel Geissler, an anthropologist at the University of Oslo. For the past several years, he and his team—an international consortium of scientists, historians, and artists—have been studying old research stations in the tropics. Their project examines the memories, perceptions, and expectations of those who used to live and work at these postcolonial scientific sites.

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