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Decolonise History. Reclaim Heritage.

08/11/2021 @ 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm

This joint LIDC-AFFORD-UK webinar took place on 8 November 2021. Watch a video of the main  recording here.

Addendum: Due to a technicality, the audio of Prof. Basu’s presentation on the day uploaded without the accompanying visual: please find the complete version as presented here.

About this event:

European and North American museums benefit from the display of objects looted during the age of empire and colonisation. Many, like the Benin Bronzes, looted by British colonial forces in 1897  and Ethiopia’s Maqdala treasures, also seized by force, continue to be displayed as trophies to colonialism. According to Professor Dan Hicks, author of ‘Brutish Museums’, some 161 museums and galleries in Europe and North America currently possess and display Benin Bronzes. Others, including  sacred and human remains, were obtained in essentially fraudulent transactions where sellers had little choice. Artefacts whose provenance is ‘lost’ are in private collections, exchanging hands for huge sums.

Claiming ownership of looted objects enables ‘Western’ museums and academic institutions to continue to uphold the same colonial racial and civilisational hierarchies which informed and justified the expansion of colonial rule.  In March this year, Aberdeen University pledged to return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria after a review concluded that it had been acquired in an ‘immoral’ manner. Several looted objects from Africa, Asia and the Middle-East languish abandoned in crates in the store rooms of prestigious institutions of colonial powers.

As part of our contribution to resurgent debates around the systemic legacies of imperialism, capitalism and colonialism, LIDC hosted a day-long event in June 2021 with our member colleges to examine the ways in which the Global Development sphere reproduces an oppressive system based on socially-constructed hierarchies. Of great interest was the session on Decolonising Global Heritage, led by Onyekachi Wambu, Director of Afford-UK, who leads a campaign calling for the ‘Return of the Icons.’ Onyekachi’s session raised questions that warrant further discussion. Why is it acceptable for stolen items to be retained and displayed by world-class Western institutions? Why are the stories of mass murder and plunder which surrounded the theft of these icons silenced? Why are restitution and reparations being withheld?  What impact has the theft of heritage – in both material and cultural terms – had on those from whom they were plundered? As Aberdeen and Cambridge Universities both announce they will return Benin Bronzes, isn’t it time for other Western institutions still in possession of stolen items and those fraudulently obtained?

We invite you to continue this debate with Onyekachi and our guests in an online event on 8 November. (You can watch Onyekachi’s ‘Disobedient’ tour of the British Museum by clicking here .)

About the panel

Onyekachi Wambu is a former newspaper editor and television producer. Since 1990 Onyekachi has led work on African cultural heritage, focusing on the impact of slavery and colonialism. He advised the late Bernie Grant MP, Chair of the African Reparations Movement (ARM) on African and cultural issues and in1995 founded African Remembrance Day. He has made high-level presentations and recommendations on African culture and heritage issues to the United Nations and African Union. He currently Executive Director at AFFORD, a charity working to enhance the contributions Africans in the diaspora make to Africa’s development. AFFORD-UK is a pioneer and innovator in the field of policy and practice of ‘diaspora development’ and the initiation of new policies, funds and schemes by institutions including the European Union, The African Union, DFID, The World Bank, IOM & Comic Relief.

Twitter: @AFFORD_UK

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and holds an M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His publications include Under the Tree of Talking: Leadership for Change in Africa (ed) and Empire Windrush: 50 years of writing about Black Britain.


Dan Hicks is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. Professor Hicks works on the material and visual culture of the human past and the history of Archaeology, Anthropology Art, and Architecture. His wide experience of curatorial work includes the co-curated exhibition and book ‘Lande: the Calais “Jungle” and Beyond’( 2019. )

Dan has published eight authored and edited books and has written articles, essays and op-eds for journals, magazines and newspapers for a wide range of audiences and has participated in numerous radio, TV documentaries and news broadcasts. His book ‘The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution’ (Pluto 2020) makes a powerful case for the urgent return of looted icons such as the Benin Bronzes as part of a wider project of addressing the outstanding debt of colonialism. Twitter: @profdanhicks

Professor Paul Basu is an anthropologist, curator and filmmaker. Currently Visiting Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University College London, his work has focused on the relationships between material culture, migration and memory. For many years he has conducted multi-sited fieldwork across diverse archives, museums, diasporas and localities, especially relating to British colonial entanglements in West Africa. His chapter ‘Re-mobilising colonial collections in decolonial times’ was recently published in the open access book Mobile Museums. His own books include The Inbetweenness of Things; Museums, Heritage and International Development (with Wayne Modest); and Exhibition Experiments (with Sharon Macdonald). He is leader of the ‘Museum Affordances’ project, and curator of the [Re:]Entanglements: Colonial Collections in Decolonial Times exhibition currently on display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge.

About the Moderator:

This event will be moderated by Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Professor of African and Gender Studies at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana (UG).  She is President of the African Studies Association of Africa; an honorary Professor at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Birmingham; and a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was the foundation Director of the University’s Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy (2005-2009) and from 2010-2015 she was Director of the Institute of African Studies. Adomako Ampofo considers herself an activist scholar. Her areas of interest include African Knowledge systems; Higher education; Race and Identity Politics; Gender relations; Masculinities; and Popular Culture. Among her current projects (with Kate Skinner, University of Birmingham) is  “An Archive of Activism: Gender and Public History in Postcolonial Ghana” which seeks to constitute a publicly accessible archive of, and documentary on gender activism and “political women” in postcolonial Ghana


Please note: This event will be recorded. By signing up for this event, you agree that we will collect your data and contact you for the purposes of the event only. Your personal information will be deleted after the event. You can email to cancel your registration and have your data deleted at any time.

Main photo: Charine John/LIDC

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