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Workshops - The return of things (le retour des choses)

ProgrammeAteliers définitif 1 page 0001Between the 22nd and the 27th of May 2023, a series of workshops gathered under the title “The return of things: Objects, archives and creation in time of restitution” took place in Yaoundé, Cameroun. IFRA-Nigeria, with numerous partners, participated in these events that took place in the following locations: Musée National - Goethe Institut Kamerun –CIPCA – Institut Français du Cameroun – Bandjoun Station. Follow this link for more information (French & English versions available):

Barbara Morovich, director of IFRA-Nigeria, and Cyrielle Maingraud-Martinaud, researcher & deputy director of IFRA-Nigeria, took part in a panel discussion titled “And Now?” on the 24th of May at the Institut Français of Yaoundé as part of this series of workshop.

The history of requests for restitution is becoming well known: As old as the spoliations of objects by the colonial powers, it has since been written on an African scale through the mobilisation of institutions, communities and diasporas, researchers and artists, from the solemn appeal of Amadou Maktar M’Bow, director of Unesco, “For the return of an irreplaceable cultural heritage to those who created it” (1978), to the debates and manifestos of the Pan-African festivals of Dakar 66 and Algiers 69, and the international conventions on the illicit traffic of cultural property (Unesco 1970 and 1972, Unidroit 1995). A new stage began recently with Emmanuel Macron’s speech at Ouagadougou (Nov. 2017), an opening soon to be taken up by other European countries. Following the Sarr-Savoy report (November 2018), seven African countries, including Benin, Mali and Senegal, are officially requesting the French government to return some or all of their cultural property.  A first restitution by France of 26 works take place to Benin in November 2021, and to Senegal as well. Others, imminent, are underway from Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and France to Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, after Ethiopia and Madagascar, each time according to different modalities. The process seems irreversible, but questions remain, on both sides, between emotions and polemics, heritage policies, colonial and post-colonial violence and memorial approaches, exhibition or tourism scenes, uses and properties of things, forms of knowledge, works of art concerned and their fates.

In this general framework, Cameroon occupies a special place, both because of the richness of its 250 or so communities and its history. A German protectorate between 1894 and 1916, then a territory under a League of Nations and United Nations mandate assigned to France and the United Kingdom, Cameroon was also, shortly after its independence on 1 January 1960, the first African country where restitution took place (Dec. 1973). Different from the current context, which focuses on the colonial period and museum collections, the return of Afo-A-Kom (“the Kom thing”) was nevertheless exemplary of an international collaboration, including various actors.  

This workshops in Cameroon propose to approach restitution through the prism of returns, i.e. to decentralize: from the countries where the objects were held to the countries and communities of origin; from Western viewpoints to African opinions; from the “works” exhibited in European museums to the resocialization of the returned “things”, recharged with multiple meanings; from the materiality of the objects to archival images and to contemporary creations. How is the possible return of objects perceived? What imaginations and expectations does it awaken? What would be the values of the returned things?  Thinking about the goods that are currently in demand, the things that are still there, involves crossing points of view and opening up spaces for debate, both inside and outside scientific arenas, while respecting all stakeholders*. To this end, the participatory meetings initiated by the collaborative research programme ReTurns (ReTours) – Geopolitics of Heritage, Economies of Return, Imaginaries of Restitution, in partnership with various institutional, associative and traditional structures, will alternate themes, inclusive participatory workshops in Yaoundé as well as in West Cameroon. They will be associated with projections, performances and exhibitions.


Tags: heritage

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