ON THE RETURN OF
THE AFRICAN CULTURAL ASSETS
The journey began with the first productions in Mozambique and Angola. The project PAST / PRESENT / FUTURE CAMEROON illuminates German colonial history and its effects on the people of Cameroon up to the present day. Together with our partners from Cameroon, we then came up with the idea of actively and artistically engaging with the discourse on the "restitution of African cultural assets". In an impressive way, this project reflects the past, present and future of our connection to different African societies.
How and why were the African cultural objects collected? What is their significance today and for whom? Who lays claim to them and on what grounds? Paradise Garden participates in the cultural and political discussion together with its Portuguese partners as well as partners from Angola (as a former Portuguese colony) and Cameroon (as a former German colony). With the PANDORA project and the comprehensive research presentation that resulted from it, we have created an important fact-based foundation for further debate.
BREAKING NEWS: Ten days after our intensive week at the Volksbühne and our public events on 17 and 18 June in the Red Salon of the Berlin Volksbühne, we received the great news par excellence: The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation announced that the figure of "Ngonnso" will be returned to Cameroon. What a success! After 30 years of effort, it is now done. We are all very happy, especially Sylvie Njobati and the NSO community. For Sylvie, the journey to Berlin was especially worthwhile. But despite all the joy, this can only be a first step on what is still a very long road. The current discussion about the restitution of cultural assets must be accelerated by further challenging artistic contributions.
The aim is to address people who have not yet dealt with the issue and to enable an understanding of the complex topic through an artistic approach. Of course, the colonial history must also become visible in the process. The cultural assets must be digitally recorded and made freely accessible to the public. This is an essential prerequisite for the societies of origin to even be able to find out where which of their objects are stored. Because you cannot change history, you can only explain it. Provenance research must be further advanced and supported with public funding. The results must be made visible through exhibitions. Restitutions should be used - with the participation of all societies concerned - for apologies and reparations for the mistakes of the colonial era. A broad public debate is needed in Europe and in the countries of origin to illuminate the different dimensions of art, culture and religion. When one realises that hundreds of thousands of cultural objects are stored in German museums, it becomes clear that the restitution debate is also about a question of unbalanced distribution of capital. The return of African cultural assets should serve on both sides to further address the asymmetrical relations that still exist between the former colonial powers and to initiate a permanent debate on the causes of today's conflicts.
Foto: Florian Ritter from top left to bottom right: Christine Wünsch, Jens Vilela Neumann, Landry Nguetsa, Tila Likunzi, Ana Lucao, Kitty Furtado, Inês Beleza Barreiros, Sylvie Njobati, Phillip v. Rothkirch, Luka Mukhavele, Aline Frazão
With this project, we artistically process the discussion about the cultural assets stolen during the colonial era using concrete examples and make them accessible to a broad public. To prepare and realise RESTITUTION ART LAB - a hybrid of theatre, performance, film documentation and symposium - artists from Berlin, Yaounde (Cameroon), Luanda (Angola) and Lisbon (Portugal) met for a week at the Berlin Volksbühne in June 2022. A closed workshop with artists and experts, as well as a performance with a audience discussions.
The results are recorded in films, texts, photos and audio collages.
The Ethnological Museum Berlin houses one of the world's oldest collections of Angolan art. Together with the Goethe-Institut Angola, the Museu Nacional de Antropologia in Luanda and the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin (SMB/SPK) began a partnership in December 2018 to jointly reactivate and explore the important Angolan collections in Berlin and Luanda for the public. Among other things, the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin houses the iconic sculpture of the cultural hero Chibinda Ilunga, who is considered the founder of the Lunda and Chokwe kingdoms. The story of Chibinda Ilunga is part of the RESTITUTION ART LAB.
The RESTITUTION ART LAB dedicated itself to the figure of the Ngonnso. The wooden standing figure covered with cowries, which is regarded in Kumbo as the image or embodiment of the founder ancestress of the Nso' (ethnic group from Cameroon), came to Berlin during the German colonial period under circumstances that can no longer be "clearly explained", in 1902 through the Prussian officer Kurt von Pavel. In our PANDORA research we reported in more detail about the figure. Now we would like to present the current activities, conflicts and aspects concerning the Ngonnso.
Paradise Garden has received funding from the German Foreign Office for the RESTITUTION ART LAB. Indirectly, we ourselves profit from the existing injustice, just like a provenance researcher who receives a wage for his work with his research on cultural assets. However, not in the same way as the museums, which exhibit the unjustly acquired collections and profit from the income of visitors. We are also aware that artistic or dialogue events (such as expert talks, panel discussions, etc.) often serve as "stalling or delaying tactics" for the responsible institutions to prevent direct restitution. Dialogue is a colonial strategy to silence the demands for restitution that have existed since the 18th century. It is easier and more cost-saving to use projects to give oneself the image of "doing something about the historical debt" than to pay the debt itself. Despite these contradictions, we decided to work on the issue with our artistic methods.
Because we are convinced that our European society cannot develop further as long as the injustices of the past have not been dealt with.
The RESTITUTION ART LAB deals with the question of the restitution of African cultural assets in an international context. The common interest of the nation states of Europe lay in the exploitation of the colonies. In our opinion, the capital acquired from this still forms the basis of our wealth and the inequality between North and South today. The demand for RESTITUTION is therefore only one piece of the puzzle - as are other post-colonial demands: e.g. the cancellation of historical debts / the removal of racist statues, monuments and street names / the erection of monuments to the victims of colonial crimes / the abolition of "white privilege". The "repair" requires a constant questioning and unlearning of the colonial methods by which knowledge and thus power are reproduced.
In the name of the voice of my rebellious silence
In the name of my wordless death buried on the derm of my destiny
A holy day the sun on the pantheon of an amazing smile
This bunch of radiance that begets genius
A holy night day going to slumber
To fertilize the most beautiful jewels of our ebony striped goddesses
Maternate the most terrific masks that sweep our worries
The eyes blossomed with gold
Glancing our revered statues
Perched on the thrones
Blessed by the magic vows of our manes
Forge of Treasure
Forge clever son of my blood
A metal for our delirious passions which taunt the spit of Bismarck and its colonial choir
Forge of Forces
Forge pretty iron weaver
The arrows and amulets that shall sing on the battlefield
The praises of the millennial totem
I am already dead
All this time lacerated in this touristic jail for the curious
All these strangers who fondle me with admiration
Chewing the pleasure of their domination
They raped me
They have ... where are you justice?
They eye me yes they eyed me: Oh a piece of bronze!
They palpated me ocean of shame They palpate me: Exotic African wow!
Relic of their murderous heroes who fiddled with the breasts of Africa to wring its millennial milk
I am not a Negro artwork which fertilizes a Negro art
Yes I am the most beautiful slave of their tears and their hurrahs of Versailles
I am sentenced to life
Buried in a luxuriant cage
A little sound to break the chains of my silence
These couplets that murmur my dis-exhibition
In the morning of my dreams I see
I see from the bottom of my handcuffed silence
From the abyss of my simmered death
Patiently gripped by the deaf tears of my drunk land
Earth I still remember
Joy Pain and trance of Torments
I still remember
Scent of peace
Scent of joie de vivre
Scent of wisdom and bravery
The multicolored dances in my Africa
The mean stares of the Kings of my jewel-case continent
See you macerated in the flames of their mad ambitions
Terrified amongst the trampled bodies
Cargoes crumbling under the despair of your wealth who cried who cried who are crying
These prophetic choruses that rustle around me
These media and clever lunatics who sing and chant my liberation
Free the condemned for life! Let her go back to her cowards
Don't cry for me
It has been a long time since my life has slammed the door.
They stole my destiny
Precious rubbish that decorates the Berlin wind
That flows in the Seine of Paris
That parades on the envies of Buckingham
Don't cry anymore for my worth
Show me to the sea-tears from my Africa
Where are their tears?
Where are the tears-family?
Free the condemned for life, let her go back to her cowards
Will I still recognize the piece of nostalgia where my umbilical cord sleeps badly?
Will they recognize me?
Will they come and lull me?
As Afo Akom “the prodigy is back”?
Always my insane despair
Facing the orgy of my peacefully impotent Africa-pistol
Soaked in the tears of her oppressed journey
From the hell of Gorée to the mayday trumpets of He’ro-Nama
From emptied pride of Lock Priso to the whitened beaches of Swakopmund
I hear souls whining to offer a little melody to deaf-mutes
I see the sky shining and withering on the head of my darling disarray
I murder my hopes cursing the waves which shape urbi and orbi the face of my romantic clearance in the manors of the great
Been so long
Tired of waiting their sweating love voices
Long time ago that I fade in these trunks
That the fate has misled me
Oh life has dropped me to relish with handsome politico and collectors
Gathering our tam-tam hearts so that together we can knead a new Africa with our sweat
So that united in forgiveness I breathe into them everything that a museum life has taught me
Hooooomeeeee, Where do I go when I can’t go oo Home?
It has been so long since my life has slammed the door
So let me become a star
I am no longer the pride of the Rhine
I am no longer the complaint of the Sahara
I am just
A sober star
A little memory drooling with the desire to write a new dream on the lips of the world
To tell the story of a future world in all the languages of the world
Before the midnight of my StatueDreams
Cameroon: Sylvie Njobati is an Activist and multimedia Artist harnessing the potentials of Arts in lubricating change.
Inspired by multiple layers of self identity crisis, she is currently leading the fight against colonial injustices with focus on the restitution of Ngonnso. Her #BringBackNgonnso campaign harnesses different forms of new media in amplifying voices of Source communities in the question of restitution. She has produced several films, audio tours, theatre plays and curated several artistic events both locally and Internationally. She enjoys photography and writing.
Cameroon: Landry Nguetsa is a Cameroonian artist, writer, actor and director. He graduated in performing arts and cinematography from the University of Yaoundé. He has participated in and directed writing and acting workshops both in Cameroon and internationally. He is the author of several plays and performances, lead actor in the television series "Remember" and winner of several awards. He assisted big names in theatre such as Dieudonné Niangouna at the Berliner Ensemble.
Cameroon: Juvenil Assomo is a Cameroonian theatre maker and writer. In 2014, he completed an M.A. at the University of Yaoundé 1. During his postgraduate studies, Assomo wrote numerous plays and performed in various theatre productions. In 2018, he was a laureate for literature of the Goethe-Institut Yaounde in Cameroon, as well as the Visa pour la création of the Institut Français in Paris in 2020.
Angola: Tila Likunzi (b. 1982) lives and works between Luanda and Bonn. She is an independent curator and researcher from Luanda, Angola. Before turning to art, she worked for many years as a translator, interpreter and text reviewer. In 2021, she co-founded (with artist Iris Buchholz Chocolate) the digital research and publishing platform for art and education - Lugânzi, The Living Archive. She not only curates contemporary art from Angola, but is also dedicated to self-study and research into contemporary African philosophy and African belief systems and ways of being. Her curatorial practice is process and research based, focusing on the commonalities between contemporary art from Africa, critical theory and decolonial practices. She uses sound, video, photography and film as artistic and curatorial languages. @tilalikunzi www.luganzi.net
Angola: Jaliya The Bird is an Angolan writer, poet, and performer. Her work explores the experience of being Woman, Black, and African creating a space where history, politics and anthropology intersect. The poet finds it revolutionary to tell stories in order to disrupt, destroy, build narratives, and archive existence. She is passionate about the idea of collective existence, freedom and authenticity, living life from the core of who we are as we respond to the causes that move us. Her award-winning spoken word film Idle Worship, directed by Ariel Casimiro (Usovoli Cinema), screened at various international poetry and short film festivals. @Jaliyathebird, jaliyathebird.com
Angola: Aline Frazão is an Angolan singer, songwriter, producer and performer. Born and raised in Luanda, in 1988, she released five original albums and composed the soundtrack of the Angolan film "Air Conditioner". Besides her solo work, she is also part of the Julia Hulsmann Oktett and she is currently on tour with the performance "Amore", by the Italian theatre company of Pippo Delbono. Aline has published some fiction short stories and essays. She studied Communication in NOVA University of Lisbon and she is a member of the Angolan Feminist Collective Ondjango Feminista.
Portugal: Inês Beleza Barreiros is an art historian and cultural critic interested in the ways in which the coloniality of seeing sustains the coloniality of knowledge. While working as a policy making advisor, Inês was involved in the making of an amendment to Portugal's State Budget 2020 proposing the constitution of a commission to do an inventory of looted objects kept in Portuguese public institutions. Currently, she is a researcher at NOVA University of Lisbon and editor of magazine LA RAMPA - Art, Life and Beyond. She has also been working as a scriptwriter and assistant editor for documentary films that explore the relationship of cinema with other arts, such as painting, landscape, and architecture.
Portugal: Kitty Furtado was born in Angola, the daughter of a Cape-Verdean father and Portuguese mother. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, from the University of Minho, with the thesis ‘Otherness and identity in cinematographic fiction in Portugal and Mozambique’, a master's degree in Educational Sciences from the University of Aveiro, and a degree in Theater from the Superior Scholl of Theater and Cinema of Lisbon. As a cultural studies enthusiast, Kitty has dedicated herself to the dilution of boundaries between academia, arts and civil society through projects on processes of othering, social memory, race and gender, in a decolonial perspective.
Switzerland: Robert Rickli studies free art at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. The focus of his content is in the areas of play, ecology and compost. In recent years, he has been intensively involved with collective work, among other things in the form of an expansive performance (Beelines, Theater der Welt 2021) and an interactive exhibition (Potent Ground, 2021). He is also active in political contexts for climate justice.
Germany: Melwin Funk is an art student in his 5th semester at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. He studies with Professor Lena Newton in the stage design class. Melwin enjoys filming and writing, and dabbles in various sculptural practices.
Germany: Jens Vilela Neumann brings together and coordinates the numerous project partners and artistic results. He is a theatre maker who works with various partners (inter-) nationally as a director, writer or actor. He has been working with Landry Nguetsa since 2018. In 2019, he realised with him the project "Past, Present, Future - Cameroon" on the German colonial past; in 2020 the project "Pandora - the return of cultural heritage" and in 2021 the project "Departure? - cultural exchange despite and about Corona". "Departure?" was implemented together with partners from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cameroon and South Africa. In Angola, he staged the play "Miguel K. quer Justica", an adaptation of Heinrich Kleist's novella Michael Kohlhaas by José Eduardo Agualusa.
Netherlands: Mystha Mandersloot is an Dutch actress, teacher and theatre maker. She is in her last year of studying Theatre & Education at the university for the arts in Utrecht (HKU). While studying, she has made several plays and performed in various theatre productions. Through theatre, Mystha tries to explore social taboos and wants to create dialogue.
Germany/Colombia: Àlvaro José Sánchez Rosero is a young up-and-coming actor from Berlin. He was born in Colombia, attended the Montessori Oberschule Potsdam and the Film & Media School Babelsberg. Since his school days he has been enthusiastic about theatre and acting. From PG and the ensemble of the "Zerstreute" he was seen in the production of "Zum guten Menschen" (To the good man). Among other things, Alvaro José has been under contract with the agency for young actors "le und la" with Lale Nalbant, in Cologne, since 2021.
Germany: Christine Wünsch is from Berlin, studied theatre and musicology and has been acting since her youth. She has participated in several productions of PG, but also as a co-actor in productions of the Deutsches Theater Berlin. In her spare time she plays several instruments, is a saxophonist in a big band and has some experience with choral conducting.
Germany: Philipp v. Rothkirch is a multi-instrumentalist / composer / producer / music therapist and teacher. He has produced a CD of lullabies from around the world (Heart Tones - lullabies from around the world) and contributed a composition to the anniversary album of the "Fanfare Ciocarlia" (Romania). This album was awarded the "BBC Songlines Music Award" as best world music album in 2022. For the ensemble of PG's "sTrotzenden" he has already accompanied three plays as a musician.
Germany/Angola: Ana Lucao is a 23 year old poetess, dancer, student and school social worker. Since 2019 she has been studying speech pedagogy and the art of storytelling in social work. She currently works in a school in Berlin, but is also a spoken word poetess, a dancer and is involved in theater. She’s very passionate about her art and her
favorite topics are language and identity. Last year she participated in the theater piece “Akzeptanz Berlin” and published in text in “Sisters and Souls 2” edited by Natasha A. Kelly.
Mozambique: Luka Mukhavele is a musicologist and artist from Mozambique with over 30 years of experience in research, teaching and musical performance. Luka is committed to the decolonisation and revitalisation of African musical cultures, combining his introspective and empirical approaches with the "conventional" to counter the universalisation of Western concepts, paradigms and epistemologies in musicology and science in general.
He composes, plays, produces and teaches (African) musicology based on African instruments such as xitende, mbira, xizambi, xigoviya and marimba, as well as self-developed instruments - mbvoko, mbira and ndhondhoza - as new didactic tools for contemporary discourse to be integrated into the scientific knowledge and practice of music. www.mukhambira-musical.online