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REGARDING MUSEUMS On Colonialities, Ownership and Loss
Short film program curated by Nnnena Onuoha
Spanning a range of essay, experimental, fiction and documentary styles, the films in our program share a focus on interrogating the reality that so much of Africa’s visual and material culture is in Western museums and
archives. What does it mean, they ask, to have these sculptures, photographs, film reels, sound recordings, animals, people etc., from Africa, Asia and Oceania overwhelmingly on display in Euro-America? How were
these acquired in the first place and how did colonialism play into that process? Taken together, these films explore what it might look like to decolonise memory cultures, either by calling for the return of objects, or
in some cases, by attempting to recontextualise and reread them from the present. They are experiments on healing the epistemic violence inherent in colonial collecting practices.
Free entry, but tested, recovered, vaccinated!
Donations are welcomed. The Program is in English.
4.15 – 5.15pm
PROGRAM 1: MUSEUM AS MAUSOLEUM TRT: 48min
Grappling with the idea of the museum as mausoleum, the films in this section ask what hope there is for restoring life to “dead” artefacts.
Les Statues Meurent Aussi
[ENG: Statues Also Die], 1953. France. 30min. Dir. Chris Marker, Alain
Resnais and Ghislaine Cloquet. [French w/ English subtitles]
„When men die, they become history. Once statues die, they become art.
This botany of death is what we call culture.“
Commissioned by the journal Présence Africaine and subsequently
banned by French authorities for being anticolonial, this essay film explores
the impact that colonialism in general and their acquisition by
Western museums in particular has had on African art. Beginning with
close-ups of some artefacts at the Musee de l’Homme set to the rhythm
of drums, the film’s narrator subsequently criticizes how Western museums
deprive African people of their culture and in turn separate these
artefacts of their sacred and social contexts, transforming them instead
into exotic and mass produced souvenirs.
Chris Marker was a French writer, photographer, documentary film director,
multimedia artist and film essayist.
Alain Resnais was a French film director and screenwriter whose career
extended over more than six decades.
Ghislain Cloquet was a Belgian-born French cinematographer.
Havemos de Voltar
ENG: We Will Return], 2017. Angola. 18min. Dir. Kiluanji Kia Henda
[Portuguese w/ English subtitles“
„The purpose of recording is also to certify the death of the event you
intend to tell…The history presented here was sequestered by the fraudulent
imagination of a foreign gaze.”
Amelia Capomba is a taxidermied-but-sentient giant sable antelope in
the Archive Centre in Angola. Not content to remain as a lifeless historical
relic, she resolves to return to what she considers her glorious past.
However, the only forest she remembers is the artificial backdrop of the
natural history museum. Taking its title from a poem by Angola’s first
president Agostinho Neto, the film explores the difficulty of returning to a
precolonial past when one has been so far removed from it.
Kiluanji Kia Henda is an Angolan-Portuguese multidisciplinary artist
whose work explores themes of identity, politics, and perceptions of
post-colonialism and modernism in Africa.
5.30 – 6.15pm
PROGRAM 2: SONIC SHADOWS, ARCHIVAL GHOSTS TRT 36min
Contextualising past collecting practices within the broader colonial
project, the films in this section speculate about how the past continues
to bleed into our present.
You Hide Me
1970. Ghana. 16min. Dir. Nii Kwate Owoo [English]
“We the people of Africa and of African descent demand that our works of
art, which embodies our history, our civilization, our religion and culture,
should immediately and unconditionally be returned to us.”
A man and woman enter the British Museum. Walking through its galleries
and storerooms, they encounter sculpted African stools and masks,
as well as intricately carved jewelry and decorative doors. As they examine
the pieces, a narrator explains how the continued presence of African
cultural objects in European and American museums fits into the colonial
model of epistemicide. Initially taken to justify colonial perceptions
of Africa at the bottom of civilisationist hierarchies, these objects are
now kept, depriving Africans of their history and also to dictate to them,
which aspects of their culture should be considered masterpieces.
Nii Kwate Owoo is a Ghanaian academic and filmmaker, described by
Variety as „one of the first Ghanaians to lense in 35mm“.
a so-called archive
2020. UK. 20min. Dir. Onyeka Igwe [English]
“I want to know what’s in that room he mentioned. I was looking online
at the museum’s prospectus to see what they collect, and take a look at
what’s officially in their holdings…”
An empty room. Dusty microphones. Cobwebs in a corner. Rusty celluloid
cans. Traveling between the former Nigerian Film Unit in Lagos, and
the former British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, the images
invite us to think about what may have been lost from the archives
in either place, and what sonic shadows remain and speaks out to us,
despite the material decay. A combination of radio recordings, audio tour
guides and “overheard” conversations provoke complementary meditations
on the relics of empire: what drove the acquisition of these photos,
films, images in the colonial era? And what has led to their abandonment
Onyeka Igwe is an artist and researcher working between cinema and
installation. She is born and based in London, UK.
PROGRAM 3: REINTERPRETING ARCHIVES TRT 34min
The films in this station revisit colonial photographic archives, asking
whether and how these images can be given new, reparative or
Faces | Voices
2019, UK, 18min, Dir. Christopher Thomas Allen and Paul Basu. (English)
“Curious. Desperate? Bewildered. A bit tearful. Wisdom. Questioning look.
Angry. Proud. Desperate? Troubled. Focused. Trauma. Smiling. Optimistic
Juxtaposing the black and white portrait photographs collected by colonial
anthropologist N.W. Thomas in Nigeria and Sierra Leone between
1909 and 1915, with people in the present-day UK who are attempting to
decipher them, the film is an experiment in re-reading the archive. Even
though these images were created to be used in racist classificatory
typologies, we observe how Black people today are able to also read not
only the violence history behind them but also defiance, curiosity, and
joy, on some of the photographed faces.
Paul Basu is a British social anthropologist and museum/heritage consultant
who has worked and trained in film and TV production for several
Christopher Thomas Allen is a media artist from London and the founder
and director of creative studio The Light Surgeons.
A New England Document
2020. USA. 16min. Dir. Che Applewhaite (English)
“We are one thing, this place and these people, says the photograph. Who
would have thought that half a century later, an unnoticed whisper of the
old way would turn up on the far side of the world?”
Centred around a collection of some 40,000 photographs taken by Harvard
ethnographers Lorna and Laurence Marshall in the Kalahari Desert,
Namibia, the film takes a reparative perspective on the images their four
decades of expeditions, beginning in 1952, produced. Decades later, the
anthropologists’ diary entries are read out by their daughter, Elizabeth
Marshall Thomas, who had accompanied the research trip as a child.
Interlaced with this, are the reflections of the filmmaker, himself a Black
student at Harvard on racism, knowledge-production, and the role of the
Che Applewhaite is a Trinidadian-British writer, filmmaker. He approaches
cultural work with internationalist and interdisciplinary commitments
to politics of time, specificity, relation and cultural process.
7.45 – 8.45pm
PROGRAM 4: COLONIALITIES TRT 48min.
The films in this station extend their analyses of European memorial
cultures connecting them to wider contexts of imperialism, racism,
and global immigration policies.
They Live in Forests, They Are Extremely Shy
2016. United Kingdom. 4min. Dir. Saeed Taji Farouky. [English]
“You might recognise this. One of our more impressive displays from Arnam
land. Take a closer look. I hear they can disappear, vanish at will.”
An indigenous Australian man who travels to London as a guest of honour
at the 1886 Colonial Exposition is confronted by the presence of his
kinsman’s corpse as one of its displays. Highlighting the devastating
effect this has on him, and his attempts to treat the remains with proper
care and respect, the film highlights the dehumanisation of colonial subjects
by Western exhibition practice.
Saeed Taji Farouky is a Palestinian-British filmmaker and artist who produces
work around themes of conflict, human rights and colonialism.
The Museum Will Not Be Decolonised
2018. UK. 10min. Dir. Arwa Aburawa and Sumaya Kassim [English]
“Although the connections between empire and Birminghan run deep this
story is rarely represented within the museum, which aids so many convenient
historical amnesias and propagates the myth of white innocence.”
Mixing archival images with narration, the film presents a history of the
city of Birmingham particularly underlining its hidden connections to
the colonial endeavour in the UK and apartheid policies in South Africa.
Drawing upon critical race theory, it asks why, in a city and country that
is so filled with monuments and museum spaces, these histories have
been swept aside and not properly grappled with. Redefining decolonisation
as remembering and acting with histories of violence in mind, it
asks whether British institutions can really decolonise or whether they
are simply bound to collect and co-opt the language of colonisation
while continuing to glorify empire.
Arwa Aburawa is a journalist & documentary producer based in the UK
with an interest in race, environmental issues and health.
Sumaya Kassim is a writer, curator and independent researcher based
in Birmingham. She is interested in archives, memory, secularism and the
politics of emotion.
Un-Documented: Unlearning Imperial Plunder
2019. UK. 34min. Ariella Aisha Azoulay [English]
“It is no secret that millions of people robbed of tools, masks and other
objects that constituted their world, continue to seek a place where they
can rebuild their homes. Not only do they have rights to these objects
their rights are inscribed in them”
Divided into 3 parts: The Right to Live Nearby One’s Objects, Unconditional
Disowning and the Gift, the film argues that we view asylum seekers’
attempts to migrate to former colonial metropoles, and the presence
of plundered artefacts in European museums as twinned migrations and
the products of similar processes of imperial exploitation and dispossession.
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is an author, art curator, filmmaker, and theorist of
photography and visual culture.