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Accepted Paper:

Restitution as Repair: Decolonisation in the Museum of Black Civilisations  
Ferdinand de Jong

Paper short abstract:

One year after publication of the Restitution Report France returned the sabre of El Hadj Umar Tal to the Museum of Black Civilisations. Exploring the potential of restitution to address the effects of colonialism, this paper examines restitution as an act of repair in a neo-colonial context.

Paper long abstract:

In December 2018, the Museum of Black Civilisations finally opened its doors to the public. Realising a project initially launched by the Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor in 1966, the museum is a belated materialisation of his Negritude philosophy. But the museum's realisation is also a timely response to the current restitution debate initiated by the French President Macron. One year after the publication of the Restitution Report, France formally returned the sabre of El Hadj Umar Tall to the Museum of Black Civilisations. Exploring the potential of restitution to address the effects of colonialism, this paper examines restitution as an act of repair in a context of neo-colonial diplomacy.

The notion of repair has recently been adopted by a range of postcolonial authors, drawing largely upon the work of French-Algerian artist Kader Attia. The notion of repair departs from usual models of reparation in that it acknowledges the trauma and does not prescribe a return to the original. Applying this notion to the restitution of the sabre of El Hadj Umar Tall reveals that, whilst alerting us to the possibilities and parameters of restitution, it privileges an ethical dimension to the process or repair, disavowing the politics that inevitably determine the process of restitution. In this case, the process of restitution of a sabre facilitated a conference on peace-keeping. Ostensibly serving repair, the register of restitution was deployed to facilitate the military suppression of a contemporary holy war.

Panel P179
Curating the (post)colonial in Europe and beyond
  Session 1 Wednesday 22 July, 2020, -