Hérve Youmbi | Les exotiques autochtones, 2020


European colonizers are agonizing over questions of repatriation of stolen objects of classical African art. Some African observers say, to give back, one century later, objects stolen from colonized societies cannot be seen as restitution because everything has irrevocably changed in the meantime, and the object no longer means what it did when it was removed. This fraught arena of repatriation is essayed by Hervé Youmbi’s “Les exotique autochtones,” contemporary reproductions of “masterpiece”- types that float above mirrored bases, in which one catches reflected messages inscribed, reversed, on the underside of the figures. What does it mean to return these objects now, when the West’s fascination for “ethnography” has waned, when the Other has become more the same? In this work, it is the museum base, above everything else, that eclipses the importance of the works themselves and the source of 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.]