Saturday, November 13, 2021


November 18, 2021 - 8:00pm – 9:30pm

The debate about resti­tu­tion and the ethics of West­ern muse­ums’ own­ing African art­works col­lected dur­ing the era of col­o­niza­tion has never been more in the pub­lic eye. Most well-known, per­haps, are the Benin bronzes,” artis­tic and royal heir­looms made since the 13th cen­tury by highly spe­cial­ized met­al­work­ers in the King­dom of Benin (now south­ern Nige­ria). In 1897, British forces sacked the cap­i­tal of this pros­per­ous king­dom. They tore sculp­tures and plaques from the palace walls, and took them back to Europe, where the looted trea­sures were sold to muse­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tors. The royal court of Benin, Niger­ian offi­cials, and high-pro­file schol­ars such as Pro­fes­sor Chika Okeke-Agulu (Prince­ton) have been demand­ing their return for decades. Increas­ingly, muse­ums based in the Global North have been lis­ten­ing to these calls for repa­tri­a­tion, and some have pledged to return works from their col­lec­tions. To pro­vide a new home for the repa­tri­ated works, plans for a new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), are cur­rently in devel­op­ment with world renowned archi­tect Sir David Adjaye lead­ing the build­ing design project.

On the occa­sion of Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion, a pub­lic inves­ti­ga­tion into our own col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA), Sir David Adjaye and Pro­fes­sor Chika Okeke-Agulu will dis­cuss their cur­rent and recent projects that address how works of art may re-enter the soci­eties they were torn away from. Laura De Becker, Interim Chief Cura­tor and the Hel­mut and Can­dis Stern Cura­tor of African Art at UMMA, will intro­duce the event.

Sir David Adjaye OBE is an award win­ning Ghana­ian-British archi­tect known to infuse his artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties and ethos for com­mu­nity-dri­ven projects. His inge­nious use of mate­ri­als, bespoke designs and vision­ary sen­si­bil­i­ties have set him apart as one of the lead­ing archi­tects of his gen­er­a­tion. In 2000, David founded his own prac­tice, Adjaye Asso­ciates, which today oper­ates glob­ally, with stu­dios in Accra, Lon­don, and New York tak­ing on projects that span the globe. The firm’s work ranges from pri­vate houses, bespoke fur­ni­ture col­lec­tions, prod­uct design, exhi­bi­tions, and tem­po­rary pavil­ions to major arts cen­ters, civic build­ings, and mas­ter plans. His most well known com­mis­sion to date, The National Museum of African Amer­i­can His­tory & Cul­ture in Wash­ing­ton, DC opened on the National Mall in Wash­ing­ton DC in 2016 and was named Cul­tural Event of the Year by The New York Times.

In 2017, Adjaye was knighted by Queen Eliz­a­beth II and was rec­og­nized as one of the 100 most influ­en­tial peo­ple of the year by TIME Mag­a­zine. Most recently, Adjaye was announced the win­ner of the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal. Approved per­son­ally by Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Gold Medal is con­sid­ered one of the high­est hon­ors in British archi­tec­ture for sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the field inter­na­tion­ally. Sir Adjaye is also the recip­i­ent of the World Eco­nomic Forum’s 27th Annual Crys­tal Award, which rec­og­nizes his lead­er­ship in serv­ing com­mu­ni­ties, cities and the environment.

Chika Okeke-Agulu, an artist, critic and art his­to­rian, is direc­tor of the Pro­gram in African Stud­ies and pro­fes­sor of African and African Dias­pora art in the Depart­ment of African Amer­i­can Stud­ies, and Depart­ment of Art & Archae­ol­ogy, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity. His books include Yusuf Grillo: Paint­ing. Lagos. Life (Skira, 2020); Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text (Skira, 2016); Post­colo­nial Mod­ernism: Art and Decol­o­niza­tion in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tury Nige­ria (2015); and (with Okwui Enwe­zor), Con­tem­po­rary African Art Since 1980 (2010). He recently co-orga­nized, with Okwui Enwe­zor, El Anat­sui: Tri­umphant Scale (Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2019). He is co-edi­tor of Nka: Jour­nal of Con­tem­po­rary African Art, has writ­ten for The New York Times and Huff­in­g­ton Post, and main­tains the blog Ọfọdunka.

His many awards include The Melville J. Her­skovits Prize for the most impor­tant schol­arly work in African Stud­ies pub­lished in Eng­lish dur­ing the pre­ced­ing year (African Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion, 2016); and Frank Jew­ett Mather Award for Dis­tinc­tion in Art Crit­i­cism (Col­lege Art Asso­ci­a­tion, 2016).Okeke-Agulu serves on the advi­sory boards of the Hyundai Tate Research Cen­tre, Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don, The Africa Insti­tute, Shar­jah, and Bët-bi/Le Korsa Museum Project, Sene­gal. He is also on the advi­sory coun­cil of Mpala Research Cen­ter, Nanyuki, Kenya; serves on the exec­u­tive board of Prince­ton in Africa, and on the edi­to­r­ial boards of African Stud­ies Review and Jour­nal of Visual Cul­ture.

Laura De Becker is the Interim Chief Cura­tor and the Hel­mut and Can­dis Stern Cura­tor of African Art at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA). A spe­cial­ist in Cen­tral African art, she joined UMMA after a fel­low­ship at Wits Art Museum in Johan­nes­burg, South Africa. After many years of work­ing with a team to research to envi­sion a new instal­la­tion of UMMA’s African art col­lec­tion, De Becker’s We Write to You About Africa, a project that dou­bled the foot­print of the African gal­leries at UMMA, opened in Sep­tem­ber 2021. De Becker’s work on the rein­stal­la­tion led to Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion, a sep­a­rate project grap­pling with issues of resti­tu­tion, also on view at UMMA for the 2021 – 22 aca­d­e­mic year.

Lead sup­port for the UMMA exhi­bi­tion Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion is pro­vided by the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Office of the Provost and the Michi­gan Coun­cil for Arts and Cul­tural Affairs. 

Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion is on view at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (525 S. State St.) through July 32022.

How to Watch

This Penny Stamps Speaker Series event will pre­mière on Novem­ber 182021 at 8pm and can be viewed on this page, at dptv​.org, or on the Penny Stamps Series Face­book page.

Pre­sented in part­ner­ship with UMMA, with sup­port from Taub­man Col­lege of Archi­tec­ture and Urban Plan­ning. Our Fall 2021 Series is brought to you with the sup­port of our part­ners, Detroit Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion and PBS Books.

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