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Restitution beyond the objects: rethinking the return of African cultural heritage as a decolonial issue

Symbolic picture for the project "De/Coloniality Now initiative"


Funded by the De/Coloniality Now initiative at the University of Freiburg, this early-career research tandem project brings together a multidisciplinary team of 3 scholars based in Freiburg, Accra and Maiduguri to rethink the question of restitution of cultural heritage as a decolonial issue.
The restitution of African cultural heritage is a hotly debated issue today. However, it is the premise of this project that the current state of the restitution issue leaves much to be desired, notably because only few items were actually returned. Moreover, current debates and research on the restitution of cultural heritage are heavily centred on material heritage and particularly on prominent artefacts seen as having a high cultural value, such as the Benin Bronzes. This project aims to further our understanding of the on-going processes of restitution by bringing into the discussion dynamics that go beyond the current focus on specific objects and material heritage.
It is based on the idea that - in order to be a truly decolonial process - the issue of restitution has to address its immaterial dimensions. These dimensions include, among other things, power dynamics and inequalities, the cultural impact of the long absence and return of these objects, the lasting colonial dimensions of museums in Europe and in Africa, immaterial heritage such as early 20th century recordings of African societies, and the creation of narratives on the restitution issue which impacts current processes. By reframing the discussions and properly understanding its full reach, the restitution debate can be a truly decolonial process.
In order to challenge and reinterpret the issue of restitution of cultural heritage in the time given, the project will focus on three intertwined research angles: a) deconstructing narratives of restitution; b) immaterial African heritage kept in European museums: entanglements between Germany and Ghana; and c) exploring the local perception of the restitution issue in Benin City, Nigeria.

Picture: © joyofmuseums


Funded by:


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Project staff at ABI:
External project staff:
Ohene-Asah, Dr. Rebecca (NAFTI, UniMAC, Ghana); Shallangwa, Dr. Zainab Musa (FRIAS & University of Maiduguri, Nigeria)
Duration of the project:
2023 - 2024