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Demystifying African “Art” as a prerequisite to being returned to African Nations.


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Demystifying African “Art” as a prerequisite to being returned to African Nations.

African Art was stolen just like the art of the Jews during their holocaust and must be considered as such. It has been acknowledged that approx. 90 % of Africa’s traditional cultural material is in Western Hands. A global system of reparation and restitution must be established.

The current dialogue and reparations activities are aimed at Western Museums but neglect to recognize that the greatest beneficiaries have been International Auction Houses. They are responsible for commodifying, commercializing, valuing, and selling our cultural heritage while totally eliminating Africans’ Access to the industry.

African nations must emphasize the contemporary value of the cultural materials that we have collectively retained in a way that demonstrates the wisdom and benefits of our rich historic cultural values, morals, and traditions.

Returning the physical African “Art” (AA) material without restoring its traditional, historical, and cultural meanings and revealing its contemporary significance is a useless exercise. Africans must be reacquainted with AA as a visual means of maintaining our values, cultural traditions, spiritual center, and social order.

For African “Art” to be returned to Africa without the above emphasis and only to generate tourism reinforces the value that Westerners already have for African art.  Our goal must be to build an appreciation in local communities of this material’s significance in restoring our values and guiding our future. Many African countries, like Kenya, have some of the most outstanding collections that are totally neglected and scorned by the masses.

How can anyone expect Africans to accept and embrace African Cultural Materials (ACM) which has been the focal point of 350 years of vile condemnation, taboos, being called primitive, evil, demonic, witchcraft, pagan, and anti-Christian?

The world’s two most dominant religions have entrenched in the minds of Africans that Africa had no history, culture, or religion of value. They were teaching that while demanding the ACM be brought to them to be destroyed while secretly being treasured and carted off to Europe’s finest museums, galleries, and collections. The European conquest of Africans required the removal of our cultural material, the drum, and the extinguishing of African languages were the precursors to the military conquest and colonization of The Continent.

An example of the significance of cultural material in conquest is the action of President Trump declaring that he would first attack 52 Iranian sacred and historic sites. This pronouncement from Trump was especially bizarre considering that he is known as a pure capitalist with no cultural appreciation beyond monetary value. His pretext for invading Iran is its development of nuclear weapons. So why didn’t he threaten to bomb their nuclear and military installations instead? His action was an attempt to destroy the source of cultural adhesion, values, and memory of the Iranian people. 

After the mass plunder of African Art and its exposure in the West, it was established as a global industry that was exclusively controlled at every level by non-Africans. Africans were completely excluded from the system that established authenticity, value, quality, scholarship, exhibits, auctions, and publications. The African’s only place in the predatory AA industry was to find the remaining treasures and provide them for sale at prices that were sometimes one-hundredth of their auction value. The African importer’s name is always extinguished as the source and excluded from the history of ownership or provenance, of the works they supplied.

African Art was colonized, such that only the material in the hands of whites was considered to be authentic. Even the works that remained in African traditional communities and National Museums are not considered legitimate, only the stolen material held in the hands of whites is considered of consequence and worth of entry systems controlled by the self-educated white scholars, Auction houses, museums, and gallery owners. As a result of this exclusionary system, the world has been cheated of the true knowledge, meaning, use, and significance of ACM.

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African cultural values have the power to transform the African’s state of mind, restore our confidence, and guide us to reestablish our traditional greatness. All of the mental damage of colonialism and slavery must be undone for Africans to be able to connect with and appreciate ACM and its contemporary significance.

The Western museums and auction houses must be required to use a small portion of the funds “generated” over the last one hundred years to fund institutions and organizations of African Historians and scholars to restore the pre-Slavery / pre-Colonial Mind of the African so that we can embrace our culture and history with pride. African museums, cultural centers, and venues that provide mass exposure and exhibits of AA shall be upgraded and supported. This is only a portion of the “Reparation” repair for damages due to Africans from our 300 years of Holocaust experience which is mandatory to bring value to the return of our ACM.

The Debate Over Europe’s Stolen African Art, The Daily Show:

Canon: A Mini-Symposium | Rethinking the Canon: African Collectors and the Canon of African Art!AtVGqcmBiF3lqw1W-4XMha-7LA1l?e=9a6Dlo  Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, PhD, Associate Professor of Art History, UC Santa Barbara.

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