My article  on Sudanese museums and  politics of identity in the transitional period 2005-2011 published in Egypte-Monde Arabe 5-6 (2009) on Heritage-Politics in Egypt and Sudan is now available on line on along with the rest of the book.

This article is part of the chapter 3: Politicisation and instrumentalization of Heritage in Sudan. This topic was investigated for the first time. The chapter comprises resourceful contributions of Iris Seri-Hersh (Iremam, Aix-en-Provence) on the recurrent use of the narratives of the Mahdiya in Sudanese politics, Ida Dykorn Heierland (Bergen University) on the political and economic use of archeological heritage in Naqa, Coralie Gradel (SFDAS, Khartoum) on the involvement of Lille III University in Sudanese archaeological research since the 1950’s and Constanza de Simone (UNESCO, Cairo) on the projected museum in Wadi Halfa.

Existing and planned museums in Sudan. ©Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, 2009

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On the 7th of October 2009, the French Culture minister  announced the Musée du Louvre would return to the Egyptian authorities five  fresco fragments   supposedly stolen from a tomb in the Kings’ Valley (Louxor). Why did it break the news?

Egyptian officials and the returned hair of Ramses IIThe issue is not really new. Since the early 2000’s, the problem of cultural property have gained visibility and  became a  source of diplomatic and political conflict. Two opposite positions are confronting. On one hand, institutions in archaeological-source countries claim for the right to be returned, rapatriated or restituted “their” “looted” artifacts as part of the national heritage. On the other hand, 18 museums from antiquities-importing countries have signed the Declaration of the importance and Value of Universal Museums (2002) stating the artifacts in their collections do not belong to a  nation in particular but to the entire Humanity. As both arguments can be considered as valid, it results  in a deadlock situation such as in the case of the Parthenon/Elgin Marble whose property is claimed at the same time by Greek authorities and the British Museum.

The new thing about this recent return is that the Louvre is one of the museums that signed the 2002 Declaration. For the first time, one of those museums agrees in such a short time (less than two weeks) to return the claimed pieces… without negociating any condition. How was it possible?

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Above is the presentation related with the article beneath:

« La question des restitutions d’œuvres d’art : différentiels maghrébins », L’Année du Maghreb, Paris, CNRS édition, 2008, p. 79-97 (Dossier « La fabrique de la mémoire : variations maghrébines », dir. Jean-Philippe Bras).

Here is the introduction:

« Eh quoi ? Les indiens massacrés, le monde musulman vidé de lui-même, le monde chinois pendant un bon siècle, souillé et dénaturé, le monde nègre disqualifié, d’immenses voix à jamais éteintes, des foyers dispersés au vent, tout ce bousillage, tout ce gaspillage, l’Humanité réduite au monologue, et vous croyez que tout cela ne se paie pas ? » Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialisme, 1950

Depuis une quinzaine d’années, les demandes de restitutions d’objets pillés par les puissances coloniales ne cessent d’augmenter en nombre comme en médiatisation. Parallèlement, la question des réparations de la dette morale et physique du colonialisme s’est engagée entre anciens colonisés et colonisateurs. Le débat sur les restitutions et les réparations conditionne les rapports Nord-Sud ; comme si, pour faire mentir Aimé Césaire, l’Humanité n’était pas réduite au monologue et que le bousillage devait être payé. La restitution d’oeuvres d’art sert-elle la réparation d’un passé bafoué ? Comment des objets de patrimoine sont-ils devenus des objets de conflits ? Read the rest of this entry »