Bones, bodies and artefacts are enmeshed in the interminable North/South “dialogue” on the restitution of expropriated African patrimonies. These objects are among the last physical vestiges of a differential power relation history in which these polar axes were positioned in the not so distant past. Return, in this pragmatic sense, is a hastening up call to the interlocutors in this dialogue.
When objects are violently removed from one culture and installed in another, their meanings change. Sarah Baartman and expropriated objects from Ghana, Benin, Nigeria and Ethiopia have evolved beyond themselves through history and now embody a narrative of presence and power.
Artists will always return to memory and memorable sites, to review the world and their environment. In this review, hope and despair, progress and stasis, pain and gain all collocate to show the dynamism of human nature. Saarjie Baartman, a Khiosan woman from South Africa remains one of the most dehumanised and sexualised black female bodies “reincarnating” in a message that speaks of the heinous crimes of colonialism yet evinces hope in the artist's portrayal of history. The Phoenix has returned in another cycle of continuity.
Peju Layiwola, Dialoguing Sarahs, Aluminium Foil, Four-piece panel, 120 by 60cm(each), 2018, Rhodes University.