This event is part of
Regarding Colonies
3—4 February 2023, 15.00-18.00
HAU Hebbel am Ufer (HAU2), Berlin

Since the 1960s, a movement of globally networked artists, intellectuals, and activists has persistently advocated for the restitution of African cultural assets and ancestral remains as an integral part of post-independence decolonisation. After a long period of stagnation, the debate on restitution has accelerated in recent years, with examples such as the Treasures of Béhanzin to the Republic of Benin, or of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. Countless initiatives by artists and cultural institutions have emerged worldwide to advance and accompany this restitution process. At this historic moment, GROUP50:50 invites artists, activists and thinkers from Europe and Africa to further discuss the foundations for a transnational restitution movement.

Following encounters in Palermo and Leipzig, they will discuss the significance of intangible cultural heritage and music for the restitution process in a series of lectures, performances, and screenings in Berlin. What happens to all the knowledge and music extracted by missionaries, ethnographers, salesmen, and officials of the colonial powers, that have been locked away in European archives? How can they be made accessible again for people in the African countries and regions whose heritage they represent? How can the musicians and artists working between continents deal with this heritage? And how can we prevent the same mechanisms of violent extraction and appropriation of knowledge and cultural practices from being reproduced in a different form today?

The Time For Denial is Over is two-day discourse programme that accompanies the presentation of The Ghosts are Returning, a post-documentary music performance about seven pygmy skeletons brought to Geneva from Congo by a Swiss doctor in the 1950s. Together with the Congo’s Mbuti people, GROUP50:50 have developed a funeral ritual for the seven spirits –  taking inspiration from traditional Congolese music, the funeral ceremonies and polyphonic chants of the Mbuti, and laments in the classical music tradition – in the hope that they will find peace.

Day 1 Programme

Who is the Thief, Who is the Owner?

Talks by Mwazulu Diyabanza and Sarah Imani, moderated by Eva-Maria Bertschy.

Regarding cultural objects and Ancestral Remains in European museums, private collections, and university archives, a whole series of complex legal questions arise. Who is the owner of the objects? Are they objects at all or are they humans? Were they expropriated, taken by force, or legally acquired? To whom should they be returned? Because essential information is often missing to clarify these questions, many argue for the status quo. How do questions of ownership relate to the cultural rights and human rights of dispossessed peoples? In the course of restitution, the legal premises of our current world order are also subjected to a decolonial critique. Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza (Multicultural Front Against Looting) and researcher Sarah Imani (ECCHR) will give short talks and engage in a discussion moderated by Eva-Maria Bertschy.

The Restitution of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Introduction by Lars-Christian Koch

Screening: Sometimes it was Beautiful by Christian Nyampeta
Christian Nyampeta in conversation with Patrick Mudekereza

In addition to cultural artefacts and Ancestral Remains, ethnographers, art collectors, and missionaries in the former colonies have also recorded and collected music and other intangible cultural heritage in order to make it available to European museums and universities for research purposes. So far, these have received little attention in the current restitution debate. How can these recordings be made accessible to artists, musicians, and researchers, but also to the local communities whose cultural heritage they represent? How can they be reappropriated? And how do we deal with the knowledge and representations that reproduce colonial violence? A short introduction by Prof. Lars-Christian Koch will be followed by a screening of Christian Nyampeta’s film Sometimes it was beautiful, and a conversation with between the film director and the writer and curator Patrick Mudekereza.

Sometimes it was Beautiful

Film by Christian Nyampeta (2018, 40 min)

Christian Nyampeta’s film is about a meeting between an improbable group of friends, who gather to watch I fetischmannens spår (In the Footsteps of the Witch Doctor), one of the six films that the Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist made about the Congo between 1948 and 1952. Postcolonial luminaries, a filmmaker, and a high ranking royal of a former colonial empire talk about the traces of a history that is filled with pain and the balance of composition.

Day 2 Programme

The second of a two-day discourse programme accompanies the presentation of The Ghosts are Returning, a post-documentary music performance about seven pygmy skeletons brought to Geneva from Congo by a Swiss doctor in the 1950s.

Towards Non-extractive Practices in Contemporary Music

Temporary Stored talk and listening session with Joseph Kamaru (KMRU)
Talks by Ketan Bhatti and Pamela Owusu-Brenyah, moderated by Elia Rediger

To this day, musicians from the Global North appropriate music from countries in the Global South and achieve great financial and professional success with it, while the musics’ creators or the cultures of origin receive neither attention nor recognition. In doing so, Western artists disregard the musicians’ copyrights, which cannot be enforced due to a lack of legal foundations or appropriate collection societies. Thus, extractive practices of ethnomusicologists during the colonial period, who served the European archives, continue. How can new forms of collaboration develop and foster an equal and inspiring exchange?

The sound artist Joseph Kamaru aka KMRU will present a talk and listening session examining his work, Temporary Stored in which the artist questions the significance of sound archives for the history of colonial violence. Using synthesiser sounds, field recordings, and recordings from the archives of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, he sets out to reappropriate the sounds that were stolen. Following the presentation, curator Pamela Owusu-Brenyah and composer and musician Kettan Bhatti present short talks moderated by GROUP50:50 co-founder Elia Rediger.

The Use of Music for a Decolonial culture of Remembrance (FR/ENG)

Performance by Fabrizio Cassol and Kojak Kossakamwe
Fabrizio Cassol and Kojak Kossakamwe in conversation with Patrick Mudekereza

Music plays a central role in the ritual practices interwoven with cultural artifacts in European museums, as well as in the inhumation of Ancestral Remains formerly stored in museums and university archives. How can contemporary musicians accompany the restitution of cultural artifacts and Ancestral Remains and participate in a decolonial culture of memory in European and African cities?
Following a performance, the musicians Fabrizio Cassol and Kojak Kossakamwe speak with writer and curator Patrick Mudekereza.

Curated by  GROUP50:50 in cooperation with CTM Festival, PODIUM Esslingen, Centre d’Art Waza Lubumbashi, and Fondazione Studio Rizoma Palermo. Funded by the German Federal Agency of Civic Education.