Unexpected Lessons #4 - Decolonizing Restitution

On Friday the 10th of February, 2023 attendees gathered at G.A.S Lagos, for Unexpected Lessons #04, an event organized by Dr. Mahret Ifeoma Kupka during her residency. The event, which was supported by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in Nigeria, brought together a diverse panel of experts with backgrounds in art, culture, and collective organising, to discuss and share their insights on the timely issue of restitution.


Central to the event were two panel discussions whose panellists included art, culture and architecture historian Dr. Oluwatoyin Sogbesan, Editor-in-Chief of The Republic Wale Lawal, artist, filmmaker, and G.A.S. Fellow, Femi Johnson, freelance curator Olufisayo Bakare, The Treehouse curator in residence Tracian Meikle, design architect, researcher and G.A.S. alumni Sarafadeen Bello and Brenda Fashugba, Head of Arts and regional lead at the British Council in Nigeria.


The event featured performances by Ayomide Fasedu and Tolulope Ami-Williams, as well as screenings of films by Femi Johnson and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay.


Lecture and Project Presentation

Dr. Mahret Ifeoma Kupka 


In her opening lecture Dr Mahret Ifeoma Kupka addressed decolonisation within the context of restitution. She touched on events like the recent return of Benin Bronzes from Germany to Nigeria, along with the intentions of Oxford and Cambridge universities to do the same, signaling a change in the West's position towards repatriating looted African artefacts. 


Mahret interrogated the discourse on restitution raising questions about what restitution means beyond the return of artefacts, how objects can be integrated into communities and museums, and what roles come to play play in the process. 


Spoken Word Performance

Ayomide Fasedu


In her presentation of two poems and one reading, Ayomide ruminated on the themes of power, colonialism, the cultural erosion induced by the colonisation of Africa, and the ongoing attempted reclamation. 


In her second poem, Fasedu reflects on the rhetoric surrounding the restitution and repatriation conversations. "Dear coloniser," she says, "don't talk to me about safety". She cites the violent legacy of the West in their acquisition of these objects in retort to headlines that read "Where do African artists belong? Are they better left in museums?". The artist offer hope with a closing reading from her own publication, The Ashes Have Their Own Stories.

Gbe mi (Carry Me) 

Tolulope Ami-Williams


"I only ask one thing, that you take care of me, and If you must go away from me, carry me not just as far as your eyes can travel, but that you carry the truth of my rebirth in your thoughts, words, and deeds." 

In an interactive performance, the masked artist invited members of the audience to participate in a ritual of cleansing and reconnecting accompanied by a voiceover that echoes with words laden with loss, pain, hope and healing. The performance was a symbolic allusion to the ongoing process of restitution as African communities reconnect with long-lost artifacts being returned by Western countries.

Panel Discussion 1 : Beyond Restitution - Rooms for Possible Futures

Wale Lawal | Dr. Oluwatoyin Sogbesan | Sarafadeen Bello | Femi Johnson


Moderated by The Republic Editor-In-Chief, Wale Lawal, this panel featured art and architecture historian and consultant, Dr. Oluwatoyin Sogbesan, artist, architectural designer and G.A.S. Fellow, Sarafadeen Bello, and director, producer, artist and G.A.S. Fellow Femi Johnson.

Together with the audience, the panel explored multidisciplinary perspectives on the ongoing debate sorrounding restitution. 

Panel Discussion 2 : Beyond Restitution - Transnational Collaborations and Allyship

Tracian Meikle |  Olufisayo Bakare |  Brenda Fashugba | Matthew Blaise 


Moderated by The Treehouse curator-in-residence Tracian Meikle, this panel features Independent curator Olufisayo Bakare, Head of Arts and regional lead at the British Council in Nigeria Brenda Fashugba, and award-winning LGBTQ+ activist, Matthew Blaise.


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