updated Octobre 6th, 2014
The Colonial War Booties and the Challenges of their Restitution
or how to come to terms with the colonial past?"
A book publication is planned in connection with the Broken Memory project (www.brokenmemory.info). It will be available in an English-language version, in order to reach a wide international audience. The book will be richly illustrated, and will present a synthesis of the programme as a whole, with different points of view on the question of compensation and restitution of cultural artefacts stolen during the colonial period, in Europe and Asia. It will present new, unpublished texts as well as existing ones.
The colonial past is currently re-emerging in the relations between former colonies and the countries which colonised them. In the past fifteen years there has been an increasing number of initiatives in favour of an acknowledgement, on behalf of present-day European states, of the ravages wrought by their modern colonial expansion. Slavery, the conquest of colonies, colonial administration, etc., are again at the forefront of a debate which aims at putting the colonial past "on trial", and eventually at making some kinds of amends.
This context has given rise to several requests for restitution of objects that were seized and taken away during the colonial period of conquest. Several objects have thus "found their way home", including the seal of the Dey of Algier, which was taken by the French colonial army in 1830 and was given back to Algeria in 2003, and the obelisk of Aksum (Ethiopia), removed by Italian soldiers in 1937 and returned by the Italians in 2005. Further requests have been made for the return of the pictorial plaques of the Edo kingdom of Benin (by Nigeria), and to the Austrian government for the return of Montezuma's crown, by a group of Mexican cultural associations. Neither of these requests has so far been satisfied. Very recently, a French member of parliament, Christiane Taubira, made a request for the return of the Abomey Treasure (from the present-day Republic of Benin), taken during the French conquest (Question to the Government, November 18th 2005). This is a worldwide phenomenon, and it appears to be gaining pace. We will also look at other instances, in different colonial contexts, in which an object from the national heritage of a country is considered as having been wrongfully taken away, in other geographical areas and at other periods of time, in order to introduce a comparative perspective.
Our aim is to make a contribution to this debate, by deliberately putting the issue on both an artistic and a scientific, aesthetic and analytical level. We aim at showing exactly how the history of war trophies can help us to understand the current relations between present-day Western societies and their former colonies. What traces did these events leave in the collective imagination? And what part can intellectuals, scholars, artists and sculptors play in reviving this memory? And what, finally, should be the role of the many museums in which these kinds of objects are kept?
All artists, scholars and writers are invited to join the project, and may freely choose the form that they wish to use to express their point of view, the only constraint being that this production can appear in a book. We welcome not only articles, but also short stories, poems, photographs, drawings etc.
Contributions should not exceed 15000 characters, including spaces. Articles should be written in such a way as to be accessible to a non-specialist audience.
Proposals for contributions will be examined by a multidisciplinary editorial committee. These proposals should not be more than a page long, and be accompanied by a short biography.