Iconoclasm and restitution: Between denial and cultural realism

Silvie Memel-Kassi


The destruction or loss of objects belonging to African cultural heritage, usually the result of historical antecedents, has had a serious impact on communities and their way of life. Burned, stolen, or destroyed, the images targeted by iconoclasm have been interrupted, leaving serious voids that the communities have tried to fill, often with difficulty. The problems that Zoë Strother addresses in her article “Iconoclasms in Africa” are complex, questioning, among other things, the legitimacy of iconoclastic activities in light of people’s expectations and protective measures taken to conserve cultural property. This is where the current debate on restitution takes on its full meaning in favor of or against repatriation. It is crucial to focus on the category of the objects at issue. Questions that deserve in-depth analysis include: Who are the parties responsible for the collections to be repatriated to their countries of origin? At what institutions will the returning artifacts be received? What is the impact of the destruction or absence of the objects? What is the existing national policy in each African country concerning the conservation of cultural heritage? This contribution draws on examples from Côte d’Ivoire.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/712005