Clémentine Deliss, May 2018
Where are we now in 2018?
26 years since the first edition of Dak’Art, the Biennial of Visual Arts in Senegal.
26 years since Alpha Oumar Konaré, former president of Mali and president of ICOM, stated: “that it’s about time that we questioned the fundamental basis of the situation and killed – I repeat killed – the Western model of the museum in Africa in order for new methods for the conservation and promotion of our heritage to flourish.”
(ICOM President’s address, 1992)
Let’s think back to these colonial museums:
1863: Saint-Louis in Senegal: the museum of “Tropical Africa” created by Louis Faidherbe in the service of the French republic;
1907: Windhoek, Namibia: the museological structure set up by colonial Germany;
1910: Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria: the museums founded by British imperialism;
And one century later,
in the throes of post-independence:
1966: the Musée Dynamique –
the dynamythical museum of
Léopold Sédar Senghor opens in Dakar.
(Rest in peace!)
And all the desire for internationalism,
for festivals, gatherings and workshops,
those manifestations at the Village des Arts,
the collectives of Tenq and Huit Facettes,
and the Laboratoire Agit’Art!
(Rest in peace!)
And then, the biennale of Dakar emerges, financed by the European Union and France… And slowly, but far too slowly,
the issue is raised of collections in Europe, engendered by imperialism and the market,
by noxious colonialism with its sinister discourse and serial kleptomania.
These collections locked up today
in the ethno-colonial museums of Western Europe.
Intellectual and governmental plantations!
Notions of imperialist progress! The monoculture of ethnology! Disciplinary and discursive closure! Taxonomies and scientific racism! Metabolisms covered in blood! “Colomentalities!”
(Rest in peace!)
What to do today?
With the mass of what are called “objects”?
Objects in collections that are named “ethnographic”,
“object-witnesses’”, as anthropologist Marcel Griaule once said,
“objects” from the market in so-called “tribal art”? These millions of objects,
an inordinate quantity in Europe alone!
without name,
without author,
without intellectual rights,
incarcerated by ethnology and its genealogies, which originate, more often than not,
outside the countries of origin,
identified by collecting, re-sales,
and swapping between museums.
A provenance at home in the salons and “secret gardens” of “patrons”, from Nelson Rockefeller to Marc Ladreit de Lacharrier̀ e.
All these objects in inaccessible depots!
Under the Seine in Paris,
where sleep, in the holdings
of ships built for slavery,
these muted bodies,
these human remains.
Or otherwise, secreted in the urban periphery,
in the “prison house of radical difference and negativity” (Simon Gikandi),
in that fridge-freezer of the soul,
confined because of their double or triple toxicity, as carriers of microbiome,
capable of unleashing unexpected pandemics, or so they tell us…
Necropolitics of sequestered objects!
Hyper restrictive access!
Discursive claustrophobia!
Exerting control! Control!
Control over future interpretations! Because anything is possible if you omit the artist,
the author,
the producer,
the name of the non-documented, to replace it with ethnos.
FUNIOU TOLLU! Where are we now? Restitution?
Yes, please! Provenance research? Yes, please!
Retrace the biographies of objects acquired or stolen?
Yes, please!
Find out what those object hunters and
organ poachers of the Other excluded? Yes, please!
But where?
With whom?
With what?
Ah okay!
So, reify omission instead?

Return to the source,
bring back the handmaidens of colonialism, the priests of ethnological phantasmagoria, encourage their hermeneutic labor once more, restore the legitimacy of their discipline,
just as they were about to go into retirement… Not sure?
No thanks!
That’s when the State magnanimously walks in,
hand in hand with the universal museum
of the 21st century!
Now, go get a visa to visit your heritage!
In Paris, Berlin, London or Vienna!
Framed by a display fashioned by interior design, exclusive and expulsive.
An exhibition that only adds a sentence or two… Because that’s the point!
They didn’t document much on those colonial collecting expeditions, did they?
Instead, it was Collect! Collect! Collect!
Ah! The excoriation of the name of the engineer, the artist, the architect!
And the bombs of WW2
that destroyed the archives.
The fires in the reserves…
We know them all too well.
But, what a relief for biographical analysis!
What comfort for the status of the “masterpiece”! But then, how to heal the colonial wound?
“Kill the museum!”, declared Alpha Konaré.
Hold on! We insist upon restitution!
But not blindly, at the pace of a snail!
We won’t wait for ethnological resuscitation and the organ trade
to restore the ghosts of the past!
We won’t wait for the discourse of provenance, with its polite politics,
step by step,
piece by piece.
We have to act now, while restitution is underway!
And push for legislation between museums, for the rights of access
to the art histories of the worlds, held in the British Museum in London
the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris
the Humboldt Forum in Berlin
the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam the Tervuren Museum in Brussels the Weltmuseum in Vienna.
Open up those bunkers!
And revise these collections,
while they are still in Europe.
Dare to radically rethink the condition of the museum, and begin with the deepest of injuries, where no redemption exists for the intermediary: the curator.
Let’s build museum-universities!
Physical and conceptual spaces for remediation, with an architecture made for healing
and reinterpreting these agent-objects. Let’s face their stubborn materiality, which has been so terribly neglected. Let’s build incongruous and problematic assemblages,
and yes, integrate digitalization…
But hold on!
Who will select what is to be digitalized?
Who will access the heart of physical collections, knowingly hidden and forgotten,
if not the priests of ethnology and the market?
And, let’s not forget the parameters of conservation! That ideology of material survival,
which is remarkably impenetrable,
with its longue durée of a thousand years or more.
No more monocultures!
No more intellectual plantations! No more museum mimicries! No more aesthetic hegemonies! No more object hierarchies!
No more museological pyramids! That “absent air conditioning”, those “inadequate conservators”, etcetera etcetera…
Let’s take control of the energy and potential of these reservoirs of ingenuity!
Let’s change the ergonomy of museums,
these “orgon accumulators” of consumerism, and open museum-universities!
Build spaces for inquiry
with rooms for conceptual intimacy,
sites for transborder art production
and disciplinary transgression
based on these anxious and contested objects. Museum-universitiesto welcome the new generation of students and researchers
more diasporic than ever before.
With their politics of communication
and future methodologies.
So that, with patented prototypes,
based on these occluded historical collections, we can rename the excluded authors,
and return both respect and copyright
to their ancestors!
Organs and alliances!
All of you!
Curators! Filmmakers! Lawyers!
Architects! Ecologists!
Brothers and Sisters!
There is no time to lose!