Value Adjustments, Cultural Heritage & Absent Objects
An event featuring Artefakte//aktivierung in co-operation with the École du Patrimoine Africain (EPA, Porto-Novo) and Didier Houénoudé (University of Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou).
Contributors: Georges Adéagbo, Artist, Cotonou (BJ); Didier Houénoudé, Art Historian, Cotonou (BJ); Malte Jaguttis, Lawyer, Cologne (DE); Peju Layiwola, Artist, Lagos (NG); Françoise Vergès, Political Scientist, Paris (F); Tobias Mörike, Historian/Scholar of Islamic Studies, Dresden (DE); Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, Artist, Berlin (DE); Students of the University Abomey-Calavi, Art History, Cotonou (BJ); Ecole du Patrimoine Africain, Porto-Novo (BJ); Artefakte//aktivierung, Artist Group, Berlin (DE)
The activation focuses on the issue of the definition and the significance of trans – cultural heritage and their affiliated practices. The point of departure for this two-day experimental event with contributions from artists, ethnologists, art historians and lawyers is access to one’s cultural heritage, the hierarchy of a post-colonial spatial relationship and the history of violent mis/appropriations: Forms of presence of exclusive objects, which elsewhere engender loss and absence.
This activation thus aims at a transformation of spatial dis/continuities such as the right to possession in addition to the right to challenge and question; accessibility, availability, disciplinary interpretations and their conversion, classifications and their transfer, value and processes of de/valorisation, places of storage and of exploitation, museum display-interpretations and socio-cultural performative utterances, (digital) re/productions, original copies, duplicates, fakes, and other sundry mementos.
A case in point is the more than 2,500 bronze and ivory artefacts, which were stolen in 1897 from the palace – in present-day Nigeria – of the king of Benin during the course of one of the colonial conflicts with the United Kingdom. Subsequently, these objects obtained record prices on European art markets; this has resulted in them rarely having changed hands since. The activation at hand takes issue with this misappropriation.
1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question (2009) by Peju Layiwola addressed the dearth of stolen artefacts, by filling an exhibition space with among other things replicas of reliefs and heads, thereby re-producing a historic photograph in the Royal Palace, which shows the appropriation of the objects.
A second case study was in 2006 with an exhibition organised to mark the 100th anniversary of the death King Béhanzin, the last monarch of Dahomey, organised by the Fondation Zinsou in Benin (Republic of Benin) in the former royal place in Abomey. Many of the exhibits were on loan from the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Permission, however, was not granted for Béhanzin’s throne, one of the principal objects that had been appropriated, to be brought to Benin. The art historian and curator Didier Houénoudé relates of a kind of shock that went through the art world in Benin at the sight of these exhibits – in particular among students of art history and artists. (Artefakte//aktivierung)