From Restitution to Repair

  • 10.9.2022 Saturday
  • 11.9.2022 Sunday

Akademie der Künste, Hanseatenweg
Hanseatenweg 10, 10557 Berlin

A vast majority of precolonial African artistic and cultural heritage is held and stored in European museums—completely out of reach of the societies of origin, who have a right to their heritage. Since Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr published their report on The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage in 2018, the debate on restitution has returned to the forefront of the political agenda. While it is gaining attention internationally, this discourse is also in danger of becoming institutionalized and de-complexified. The forces in power seem to be slowly shifting as Western museums and states can no longer ignore the necessity to question and return their collections. But under what conditions do these returns take place? And what are the related repercussions at large? The absence of the objects has left traces of trauma in their places of origin that remain even after their return. The psychological dimensions of the loss of cultural objects become visible, for instance when the reinstallation of the objects in Africa mimics Western museums. How can restitution go beyond the material gesture of giving back cultural artifacts? How can the custodians infuse dreams and life into objects long exiled? And, thinking of restitution beyond objects, what, for instance, are the stakes of restituting human remains?

This conference considers the debate around restitution a starting point for dialogues aiming at decolonizing arts and culture, as well as an anti-colonial memory culture. It seeks to frame restitution within the broader concept of repair (as developed by Kader Attia) of individual and societal traumas and as a mode of cultural resistance. Participants explore the psychological dimensions of the loss of cultural heritage in Africa and the paradox presented in mimical museography. The contributions explore the possibility of an ontology of restitution as a cosmogonic, political, and philosophical reinvention.

Curated by: Kader Attia
With: Albert Gouaffo, Bénédicte Savoy, Ciraj Rassool, Dan Hicks, Deneth Piumakshi Veda Arachchige, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, Felwine Sarr, Jihan El-Tahri, Jürgen Zimmerer, Uta Kornmeier
Performance by: Myriam El Haïk

This conference is part of the discursive program of the 12th Berlin Biennale. Taking the restitution debate as a starting point, it explores how colonialism and imperialism continue to operate in the present.