The information on this page came together as a result of the collaboration of Art&Dialogue e.V in Berlin, Germany, with the l’Union des Cultes Traditionelles du Togo, and with the financial support of the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam, the Goethe-Institute, and the Berlin University of the Arts. Art&Dialogue supports the UCTT in its claim for the restitution of powerful spiritual objects from western collections. Together, we want to resolve the question, if and how it is possible to return “museum pieces” to their original status as spiritual objects. What should their new surroundings offer, and what use could this process have for the communities to which those objects are returning. This project also poses crucial questions about the potency of replicas to absorb audiences in enduring emotional encounters with universal art treasures. Throughout this collaboration artists, scholars, cultural researchers, spiritual dignitaries, political activists, and cultural workers speak about, explore and celebrate their differences and commonalities by giving space to and exchange spiritual knowledge and narratives. By revisiting past places and times, we hope to open up new possibilities of the present. This project wants to make a small contribution to a series of projects, films, books, and theories that also aim for the decolonization of thought and the deconstruction of structures that keep western powers, borders, and privileges in place.
With the help of copies of the originals, members of the UCTT are talking about ceramic pieces, related to Mami Wata and from the Togolese coast. The originals are part of the ceramic collection donated by Franz, the Duke of Bavaria to the Design Museum, Munich, Germany who had been collecting since the 1970s. From September 2019 to April 2020 the museum held an exhibit of over 250 works from this collection.
Friedrich von Bose has been Head of Research and Exhibitions at the three Saxon Ethnological Museums in Leipzig, Dresden and Herrenhut, which together form the Dresden Ethnographic Collections, since October 2020. He has also worked in recent years as deputy senior curator of the commissioned exhibition at Humboldt University in Berlin's Humboldt Forum.
Dossa Amedegnato and Nicoue Povi Houedossi speak in a workshop of the members of the L'Union des Cultes Traditionelles du Togo about their ideas for Maison Gbébé, and about the role of copies in restitution scenario's.
At the Archives Nationales du Togo in Lomé, documents of the German colonial administration are kept. In 2020, Dr. Kokou Azamede published his book 'Transkulturationen? Ewe-Christen zwischen Deutschland and Westafrika, 1884-1939".
The dilemma in Vodou of how much of the sacred should be revealed, while seeing a ritual through the eyes of an offering. With dr. Sinseingnon Germain Sagbo from the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin.
Dr. Ohiniko Mawussé Toffa talks about his work in a provenance research project in Dresden. Eight collection volumes with around 700 objects from the historical territory of Togo, which were acquired or donated to the Museums of Ethnology in Dresden and Leipzig between 1899 and 1939, are the focus of the provenance research project . Their acquisition was related to the activities of German scientists, traders, colonial officials and missionaries in Togo under German colonial rule from 1884 to 1919.
The buildings to which the Musée Regional d'Aného belongs were erected in 1888 by the German colonial administration and served as residence for the Reichskommissar Jesko von Puttkamer. Interview with Dr. Ohiniko Mawussé Toffa from the research cluster Dynamik der Missionierung und der Kolonialisierung der Universität Bremen.
Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, an architect and anthropologist based in Lome and Paris, talks to Mathilde ter Heijne, an artist based in Berlin, about the problems of creating an architecture for Maison Gbégbé that could exhibit religious artefacts, and, at the same time, hosts charged objects.
The private collector Matti-Juhani Karila restituted one object from his collection of Mami Wata figurines housed at Villa Karo Finnish Cultural Center Museum in Grand Popo, Benin.
Copies for ethnological collections?! What does it actually mean; to return “ethnological artifacts” to their place of origin? And maybe even to their original status as spiritual objects? L'Union Cultes Traditionelles du Togo), an organization of healers and traditional practitioners based at the coast of Togo and Benin, has been discussing these issues for the last few years. Who can accept returning sacred objects? Is it always clear who was the original producer? And what are the costs when objects return? What rituals or sacrifices are needed? And will the objects automatically help the rehabilitation of the community and repair the loss of lost knowledge?
In early 2020, Matti-Juhani Karila restituted a Mami Wata altar sculpture to L'Union des Cultes Traditionnelles du Togo, an organisation of Vodoun priest in Togo and Benin. Here Georgette Singbé hands over the sculpture at Villa Karo. UCTT members investigated the origin, production, and migration process of the object in order to recover the meaning and production of the figure and the spiritual knowledge associated with it. The sculpture will be activated again at Maison Gbégbé in Agouegan, Aného in 2022.
Inhabitants from the village of Agouegan work together at the construction-site of the show- and assembling room at Maison Gbébé. With music and dance by Comlanvi Joel Adjamlan, alias IVALMOK and Chris Nons!
With ‘Maison Gbégbé’ we imagine a cultural center where local, living, traditional culture is practiced, performed, preserved, and can be studied. Where spiritual ceremonies and rituals can take place by knowledgeable persons. Maison Gbégbé will be open to people with any religious or non-religious affiliation. We want to activate a space of sharing, participation, reappraisal, and ethics. In spring 2020 the construction of a temple for the Mami Wata sculpture has started at Maison Agbégbé in the village of Agouegan, Aného, Togo. Culture and heritage are at the root of how we all see ourselves and others; it helps shape identities. School children, students, tourists, and many other visitors are exposed to these ideas on a daily basis. For far too long museums all over the world have operated as fortresses, collecting, creating, defining, defending, and preserving single stories from (post) colonial or imperial perspectives.
First concepts and plans for Maison Gbégbé by Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou from L'Africaine d'architecture.