The challenges of object restitutions in the French context

The challenges of object restitutions in the French context

July 4th 16h30-18h30 at IMERA

This is a public event, all interested are welcome to attend.



The CIVIS Summer School on Colonial Legacies & Post-Colonial Challenges - Critical Museum Studies

For a long time, museum collections served the construction and legitimization of scientific disciplines such as anthropology, but also medicine, biology or history, without their constitution being really questioned. From the 1980s and 1990s, the emerging perspectives of the “New Museology” began to question collecting practices themselves. These questions necessarily led to others concerning the construction of scientific knowledge and collective memory. The practice of scientific collection (notably in the framework of ethnographic fieldwork in a “colonial situation”) and its political role began to be questioned.

The practice of selection of narratives operated by the exhibition became an object of study, as well as the conservation practices at work in museums and that began to be analyzed through the prism of the relationships between power and knowledge. Finally, the nature of the relationship built by museum mediators and art educators between museum audiences and objects appeared in turn as structured by hidden hierarchies and entangled in power relations.

This Summer School will thus focus on the highly political role of heritage collections in the construction of so-called “legitimate” knowledge and collective memory, as well as on the ways in which the constitution and use of these collections are questioned today.

Over the course of a 4-day program, students will become familiar with these issues, which will be the subject of group work. Their reflections will be encouraged through meetings organized with several museum and mediation professionals of the city of Marseille, as well as researchers specializing in critical museology. 



“The challenges of object restitutions in the French context”: Presentations by Lise Mesz (Musée du Quai Branly) & Felicity Bodenstein (Sorbonne University) followed by a discussion.


" Since the publication of the Savoy-Sarr report on the restitution of looted property in Africa, the search for provenance has become a priority for museums. The usual argument put forward by opponents of the restitution of objects looted in Africa: the provenances are imprecise, the methods of collection uncertain except in the case of duly documented ethnographic missions. A handful of researchers challenge this assumption. And if the cartels of museums are often summary, it is because they want to be voluntarily elliptical. Thus a Kono altar, exhibited in the permanent collections of the musée du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac without anything being said about the conditions of its seizure. " (Abstract of Roxana Azimi's article " Recherche de provenance : le chantier colossal des œuvres d'Afrique " for Le quotidien de l'art, published on May 6, 2021).


Lise Mész (Musée du Quai Branly) coordinates research on a hundred objects whose acquisition conditions could be questionable.

Felicity Bodenstein (Sorbonne University) participated in the creation in October 2020 of the Digital Benin platform. The objective is ambitious: to bring together online by 2022 thousands of objects looted during a punitive raid carried out in 1897 by British troops in Benin City (current Nigeria) and today scattered all over the world.

Time: July 4th 16h30-18h30

Location: The conference room of Maison des Astronaumes, at the Institute for Adavanced Study of Aix-Marseille University (IMERA), 2 place Leverrier, 13004, Marseille.