Mutant African objects and the question of restitution

Lecture by Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Wednesday 6 March 2024
In collaboration with the UNIGE Department of Modern French Language and Literature

For some years now, the issue of the return of African heritage objects to the continent where they were born has haunted public debate. But there is nothing straightforward about the meaning and practicalities of such a return. To speak of a "return" presupposes not only that an origin can be identified each time, but also that the regions from which these objects come have not changed, as if time had stood still and all we had to do was "go back". It also presupposes that the objects themselves have not affected the spaces in which they have been displayed and seen. Souleymane Bachir Diagne proposes the notion of "mutant objects", which encourages us to rethink the properties of these works and artefacts, and to reimagine the museums that will house them, in Africa and around the world.


Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Souleymane Bachir Diagne

After teaching philosophy for some twenty years at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, then at Northwestern University in Chicago, he is now Professor in the Departments of Francophone Studies and Philosophy at Columbia University in New York, where he also heads the Institute of African Studies (IAS).

He is a specialist in the history of science and Islamic philosophy.
He is one of Africa's most respected contemporary voices.
His books include De langue à langue (2023), published by Albin Michel, and En quête d'Afrique(s) : universalisme et pensée décoloniale, co-authored with Jean-Loup Amselle (2018).