Iconoclasms in Africa: Implications for the debate on restitution of cultural heritage

Z. S. Strother


This article demonstrates that a long history of iconoclastic struggles exists in numerous countries of sub-Saharan Africa and extends into the present. Exploring a range of motives and messages, I argue that iconoclasm targets people and their emotions and not just things, as monuments, devotional objects, and works of art become substitutes for those individuals, who are identified with them as patrons, makers, or caretakers. Iconoclastic controversies constitute a site where knowledge about the nature of representation and about the relationship of the past to the present is created and challenged. Whereas ongoing discussions about restitution have tended to foreground professionals in the culture industry, iconoclastic controversies provide a valuable opportunity to listen to self-identified stakeholders who claim a voice in determining the role of images in their societies, the question that lies at the core of the restitution debate.

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/712219