Hérve Youmbi | Les exotiques autochtones, 2020


Hervé Youmbi’s Les exotique autochtones (Indigenous Exotics) is a multimedia conceptual installation that considers questions of repatriation from various perspectives. For example, while European colonizers and Western museums agonize over questions of repatriation of stolen objects of classical African art, some African observers say that to return objects stolen from colonized societies now, one century later, cannot be regarded as restitution because everything has changed irrevocably in the meantime, and the object no longer means what it did when it was removed. Hervé Youmbi has impressed such fraught statements underneath the bases of reproductions of renowned masterpieces of classical African art, which have been sheathed in glass beads. The lettering is reversed and so the statements can be read only by looking at their reflection in the mirrored bases above which the sculptures are suspended with invisible supports. In this installation, the source of the dilemmas is thus the museum base itself, which eclipses the importance of the African masterpieces that prompt the questions.

– Yesterday, animated with a vital energy in the ritual universe, I was collected and became an inert object. I would like to go home, even if it means being burned. [Hier, animé d’une énergie vitale dans l’univers rituel, je suis devenu en collection, un objet inerte. Je voudrai rentrer chez moi, quitte à y être brûlé.]

– Keeper of the relics of an ancestor in my first life in Africa, I am in the West an object of display. To what role in today’s Africa will I return? [Gardien des reliques d’un ancêtre dans ma première vie en Afrique, je suis en occident un objet de monstration. Aujourd’hui, je rentrerai en Afrique pour quel rôle ?]

– What measures have been taken in Africa today to stop the hemorrhage of current cultural goods—tomorrow’s heritage—leaving the continent? [Quelles sont les mesures prises en Afrique aujourd’hui pour arrêter l’hémorragie des biens culturels actuels –patrimoine de demain- qui quittent le continent?]

-I have a feeling that our plan to return to Africa is closely linked to the current loss of relevance of ethnographic museums. [J’ai le pressentiment que notre projet de retour en Afrique est étroitement lié à la perte des repères actuelles des musées ethnographiques.]

– I wonder about the ulterior motives of this restitution project. [J’avoue m’interroger sur les intentions inavouées de ce projet derestitution.]