By Nii B. Andrews.

An important cohort of African curators, gallerists and art historians continue to focus on supporting the production, circulation and promotion of “living” art treasures that resonate with and serve ritual functions in contemporary Africa.

They refuse to focus on restitution of plundered objects from the colonial period while accepting and endorsing the principle of return.

Hamady Bocoum, the director of the Dakar Museum of Black Civilisations states:

“When people say 89% of African artefacts are outside the continent, it is not true. We have artefacts to concentrate on here. We cannot reduce the history of Africa to the history of colonisation because that was one century and a half, and we have seven million years that came before to cover”.

The current thrust is towards showing and interpreting local artistic production while still committed to bringing back historic African artefacts from abroad. 

In this vein, the underlying concept of a western style museum is being questioned by African art professionals; the focus is now on a cultural revival based on African agency.

Their sustained advocacy is for greater circulation within Africa of traditional artefacts and cultural knowledge but certainly also of CAA, so that the continent’s treasures are not perpetually seen through an outsider’s gaze. 

For example, the Dakar Museum currently has exhibitions that explore African contributions to global civilisations and the origins of Abrahamic religions in Africa—narratives that may be unfamiliar to many Africans today. 

In January 2021, the museum will open a major show which focuses on considering the influence of African cultures on the work of Leonardo da Vinci.

Another example is the current online edition of the Lagos Photo Festival (until 17 December) which is titled Rapid Response Restitution, organised by the curators Azu Nwagbogu, Clémentine Deliss and Oluwatoyin Sogbesan to foster a richer understanding of African heritage. 

The exhibit has more than 200 personal objects brought in from individual homes that “tell stories about our culture and history in ways we don’t always recognise”. 

In addition there is online Open Restitution Africa, a webinar series emphasising indispensable African perspectives on the restitution debate.

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