Restitution in Motion: The Call for the Return of Cultural Property

Expired March 22, 2023 12:00 AM
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Film programme, presentation and Q&A on historical and new approaches to restitution

Streaming 7 - 21 March

From the Benin Bronzes to the Elgin Marbles, global heritage is at the forefront of international news in debates about restitution the return of cultural objects to an individual or a community. But what is the history behind these discussions?

The legacy of colonialism is history's most consequential spectre. It has entrenched a system of racial capitalism globally, resulting in asymmetrical access to resources and mobility. Fractures left in communities, identities and cultures by colonial conquests are vast and difficult to fully quantify. Often, these culminated in displacing intangible heritage from their traditional states.

In the West, periodic discussions about racial justice re-emerge with intensity and then ossify. At the same time, nations, regions, territories, and people remain deprived, with no access to objects, monuments, heritage, and human remains that define histories, systems of belief and place. Part of this process means confronting the multi-tiered European violence that facilitated this mass pillage and challenging the philosophical justifications offered by our institutions. 

In addition to the films in this programme, a series of conversations, presentations and writings see international practitioners consider how we facilitate and define restitution. What are the new approaches to restitutive practice? And how do we understand the role of film as historical documentation?

— Xavier Alexandre Pillai, Programme Curator


How to watch the event

Tickets for this programme are free, but we invite and encourage donations to Ciné-Archives to support their work on restorations of Med Hondo’s early films. You can find out more and donate here.

This event is available worldwide. The film programme and Annabelle Aventurin's presentation will be available to watch from 7-21 March. The conversation with Dr Aboubakar Sanogo will be available from 15 March. Please note that Statues Also Die will only be available to stream from 14-21 March.

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Film Programme

Streaming 7-21 March

Restitution? Africa’s Fight for its Art

(dir. Nora Philippe, 2022)

Runtime: 52 minutes

There is an interlinking history of violent European colonialism and the cultural legacy of ethnographic collections in institutions. This documentary traces the progression of colonial history from the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 to the systematic elimination of cultural traditions, religions and lifeways which would occur sporadically through genocides and warfare until the early 20th century throughout the African continent—surveying the inquiries and movements for historical justice, the relationships between European institutions and colonial violence and following enduring struggles against these organisations to regain what was taken.

Content Note: Between the 7:27 - 7:36 mark, the film features a violent image depicting a decapitated person in the aftermath of battle.

Watch Restitution? Africa's Fight for its Art

Unearthing. In Conversation

(dir. Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński, 2017)

Runtime: 13 minutes

How do you deal with the ethnographic image? How do we confront the violence of archival history? Kazeem-Kamiński's film interrogates the viewer’s role in a performance without an audience, analysing how we look and see.

Watch Unearthing. In Conversation

Statues Also Die

(dir. Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and Ghislain Coquet, 1953, © Présence Africaine)

Runtime: 30 minutes

Available only from 14-21 March

One of Chris Marker’s earliest films was collaboratively made with Alain Resnais six years before he directed Hiroshima Mon Amour. The documentary is about the relationship between European audiences and objects of African origin, edited to the pace of the music to bring life and motion to still museumised artefacts. Marker and Resnais challenge Eurocentric perspectives in three parts. Initially, on the level of the objects, their form, significance and the object perception as art. They share the concept of the dead statue, artefacts that lose their original meaning because they are displaced from their origin, ultimately tying their broader critique to the commercialisation and capitalisation of blackness as entertainment in Europe.

Content Note: Between the 18:41 – 18:51 mark, the film features an instance of animal violence, a gory image of a disemboweled gorilla. 

Watch Statues Also Die

Ballade Aux Sources

(dir. Med Hondo and Bernard Nantet, 1965, © Ciné-Archives)

Runtime: 31 minutes

This film should be viewed alongside Annabelle Aventurin’s presentation

Film as a document. This presentation features digitised material from Ballade Aux Sources, Med Hondo’s incomplete first short film, where Hondo and his former colleague at French Radio, Bernard Nantet, traverse three major cities at the heart of the formation of new post-colonial states. The film is mute and black and white and in the process of being restituted and restored. These images require interpretation, and we advise that the film is viewed in conjunction with the presentation by Annabelle Aventurin.

Watch Ballade Aux Sources


The Conservation & Restitution of Ballade Aux Sources

Presentation by Annabelle Aventurin

Available from 7 March

How do we restitute the moving image? Presenting the challenges and aims of her work, film archivist Annabelle Aventurin takes us through the process of conserving and restituting Med Hondo’s first short film Ballade Aux Sources.

Watch The Conservation & Restitution of Ballade Aux Sources

About Med Hondo

Med Hondo (1936-2019) was a Mauritanian-born filmmaker. In 1958 he emigrated to Marseille, and his experience as an African migrant worker in part shaped the political consciousness that undergirded the themes of his work. Hondo contributed an unwavering anticolonial contribution to cinematic history in a career spanning half a century. Many of his films focused on the oppression Black and African populations faced across Africa and the Caribbean with topics concerning Western colonisation in Africa, the slave trade in the Francafrique and the broader history of colonisation. His films Soleil Ô, West Indies and Sarraounia are considered classics of African cinema.

About Ballade Aux Sources

Hondo’s first short film, directed in 1965 in collaboration with his then colleague at French Radio, the journalist and photographer Bernard Nantet, takes place over three months of travelling in major cities within North Africa post-independence. Ballade Aux Sources deals with many of the themes that would come to define Hondo’s work in Pan-Africanism and pre-colonial African history. The film is being actively restituted as the ongoing conservation practices reveal and resculpt the narratives and themes in this piece of his early work.

Annabelle Aventurin is a film archivist, film programmer and filmmaker. As an archivist, she works with Ciné-Archives in Paris (the audiovisual collection of the workers’ movement and French Communist Party), where she is responsible for preserving and distributing Med Hondo’s archives. As a film programmer, she will be co-curating a yearlong series of programmes in 2023 with Léa Morin for the Open City Documentary festival in London. In 2022, she completed her first documentary film, Le Roi n’est pas mon cousin (France/Guadeloupe), which screened at multiple international film festivals, including Cinéma du Réel, Third Horizon and RIDM.


Sound, Film and the Question of Return: What Forms Can Restitution Take?

Written response by Dr Lennon Mhishi

How do we liberate objects and heritage from the carceral logics reinforced by institutions and their histories? Dr Lennon Mhishi formulates a creative written response considering the forms and ways that restitution can occur.

Read Dr Mhishi's article here

Dr Lennon Mhishi is a researcher with the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, working at the intersections of colonial collections, restitution, contemporary art practice and epistemic plurality. His interdisciplinary work spans interests in the afterlives of slavery and colonialism, the African diaspora, mobility and displacement, music and belonging, and recently, creative heritage and community-based approaches to forms of exploitation forced labour and human rights in different African countries. He is particularly interested in film, music, sound and other arts-based, creative approaches to knowledge-making and engagement.


In conversation with Dr Aboubakar Sanogo

Available from Wednesday 15 March

We'll be joined by Dr Aboubakar Sanogo, Associate Professor in Film Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, for a wide-ranging discussion on his work with the African Film Heritage Project and the processes involved with the restoration and restitution of films through his multi-year projects.

Watch the conversation with Dr Aboubakar Sanogo

Aboubakar Sanogo is an associate professor in film studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. He is currently writing on the history of documentary in Africa and the cinema of Med Hondo. He was instrumental in establishing the African Film Heritage Project (AFHP), a partnership among the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, UNESCO, and the Cineteca di Bologna to preserve and restore African films of historical, cultural and artistic significance.


About the Curator

Xavier Alexandre Pillai is a film curator and programmer based in London. He currently curates for the BFI, working on the BFI Replay platform and is a co-curator on the Black and South Asian workshops project. He is a trustee at LUX Moving Image. He has programmed for the London and Trinidad & Tobago Film Festivals. He is findable online @Xavi____A.



All the films, the presentation by Annabelle Aventurin and the conversation with Dr Aboubakar Sanogo will be available with English descriptive subtitles.


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