Unexpected Lessons #4 – Decolonizing Restitution

Talking Objects Lab @ G.A.S. Foundation Lagos

Panel Talks, Discussions and Artistic Interventions Friday, February 10, 2023, 4pm – 9pm in cooperation with Heinrich-Boell-Foundation Nigeria

My favourite topic to write about these days is restitution. Not only because it is topical but also because restitution is still perceived to be an elitist pursuit by (some) African observers—when it should be everyone’s interest.

Ayodeji Rotinwa,

Journalist and editor at African Arguments


December 20, 2022 marks an important date in the debate on the restitution of looted artifacts from colonial contexts. A delegation of German state representatives and museum directors officially restitutes Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. In August Oxford University and Cambridge University announced their intention to return over 200 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. Following a long history of demands from African activists, artists, governments and scholars, the West appears to be changing its position towards repatriating looted African artefacts, Wale Lawal states in the current issue of Nigerian Republic magazine. But what’s next?

The recent discourse on restitution sheds light on numerous voids and raises many (old) questions: What does restitution mean beyond the return of looted artefacts? Do we need to “decolonize” European notions of Restitution? Into which contexts do the objects return? How can objects be (re)integrated into communities? How do they withstand the ethnological gaze? What kind of museums are needed, what kind of spaces for the imagination of possible futures? In what ways can communities be engaged in that process? What is needed to make the debate more accessible?

Also: What role do international NGOs play in this process? How important are collaborations between institutions within Nigeria and beyond? How can debates from other African countries be implemented into Nigerian discussions? What role does the Diaspora play?     

Just like the previous episodes UNEXPECTED LESSONS #4 addresses the theme of decolonization. In the light of the most recent returns of Benin Bronzes from Germany to Nigeria they focus on the topic of restitution. UNEXPECTED LESSONS #04 will be organized by Dr. Mahret Ifeoma Kupka during her residency at the G.A.S. Foundation in Lagos Nigeria, supported by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in Nigeria.

UNEXPECTED LESSONS #04 will be filmed and made accessible for free afterwards.