Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr’s 2018 report on The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage has sparked a broader conversation in Europe about colonialism. Institutions have started to engage with their colonial heritage and the looted objects in their collections, and governments are committing themselves to restitution. These are first steps towards a reappropriation of cultural heritage and decolonization. But how can this willingness to face the colonial past be used to intervene into a present that is firmly in the grips of what Cedric J. Robinson has called racial capitalism, describing capitalism as a system based on the exploitation of a racially constructed Other?
Taking the restitution debate as a point of departure, the workshops and conferences of the 12th Berlin Biennale’s discursive program convene scholars, activists, and artists to explore how colonialism and imperialism continue to operate in the present. Participants address the impact of Europe’s imperial expansion on the earth’s ecosystems. They discuss contemporary struggles and strategies around feminisms from the South. They examine how racism is backed by the cultural technologies and universalist ideals of the Enlightenment. They take up the issues of BIPoC who are living in the Global North and engage with antiracist practices as well as structures of solidarity. They ask how restitution can go beyond the material gesture of giving back cultural artifacts, and how action-oriented research can transform practices through “objects” contained in colonial collections. Finally, they illuminate how algorithmic governance (re)produces the same processes of racial ascription, immiseration, and exclusion that the digital revolution was meant to solve.
The discursive program draws on the concept of repair as developed by curator Kader Attia in his artistic practice—first of objects and physical injuries, and then of individual and societal traumas. Throughout his practice, repair has emerged as a mode of cultural resistance, a form of agency that finds expression in diverse practices and fields of knowledge. Making this form of agency the starting point, the program involves contributors and audiences in a critical conversation, in order to find ways together to care for the now.
Conference: Imperial Ecologies
Panel: Afrofeminisms. Bridging the Gap
Conference: Whose Universal?
Presentations: Re-connecting “Objects”
Conference: From Restitution to Repair
Conference: The Digital Divide
Videos of the conferences are available here.
Curator: Kader Attia
Advisors: Ana Teixeira Pinto, Felwine Sarr, Rasha Salti, Françoise Vergès, Irit Rogoff, Jean Lassègue, Katrin Becker, Lukas Fuchsgruber, Paola Bacchetta, Ramak Molavi, Rolando Vázquez, Stefania Pandolfo, Tarek El-Ariss, Thomas Oberender, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson
The discursive program is realized in cooperation with several institutions and organizations: Afrolution Festival, Berlin; Dekoloniale Memory Culture in the City, Berlin; Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin;
La Colonie Nomade, Paris; Technische Universität Berlin