Images of the colonial past in the Broken Memory Project

July 2007 -

The Broken Memory Project was set up by a select group of artists, researchers, writers and exhibition organisers, supported by, amongst others, the Prince Claus Fund. Broken Memory is about images of the colonial past. It consists of an exhibition, debates, a series of films and a book. Anthropologist Bernard Müller in Paris is the coordinator and writer Kangni Alem, from the University of Lomé, is one of the researchers.

Why is the Broken Memory Project relevant? Bernard Müller: "Very few people in Europe and former colonies realise that the colonisation of areas in the Southern Hemisphere was accompanied by war. They forget that many exotic objects now on display in European museums are the spoils of war. They have a completely distorted idea of the situation at that time."

Kangni Alem gives an example: "Take the German colonisation of Togo in 1884. There is hardly anything left in Togo to mark that period, except a few graves bearing a German epitaph. There are only stories passed down in an oral tradition. But many Germans and Togolese romanticise about that period and think that German colonialism was better than the French colonialism that came afterwards. The Broken Memory Project redresses that image."

Is the aim of the project also to return objects to their country of origin? Bernard Müller: "Not especially. Writer and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka said, when we were discussing the project, that it wasn't about returning objects but about what each object symbolises. What does it mean? What does it refer to? What does it tell us? Of course, we would like to see them returned, but that is at the end of a very long road."

One of the initiatives of the Broken Memory Project is an exhibition in the National Museum of Mali, featuring fifteen contemporary works of art displayed alongside the spoils of war that inspired them.

The Broken Memory Project is co-financed by the Prince Claus Fund.