REPATRIATES: Artistic Research in Museums and Communities in the Process of Repatriation from Europe

January, 2022 to April, 2026
EU Horizon 2020 - ERC Consolidator Grant

A Closer Look at the Return of Cultural Goods

The repatriation of stolen or looted cultural properties to their countries of origin has always been a controversial issue throughout the world. The issue becomes even more complex if ownership is unclear or contested. The ERC-funded REPATRIATES project will bring together internationally art-based research actions that respond to repatriation, to learn from exchanges between Austrian, French, German and British institutions and stakeholder indigenous communities. The project will propose ways forward for the decolonisation of cultural property such as new models of co-ownership. The over-arching objective of REPATRIATES is to give a voice to the artistic and stakeholder community in repatriation debates.


What innovations to the repatriation of cultural property can be performed by making new originals? The specific objectives of REPATRIATES are to bring together internationally art-based research actions that respond to repatriation, to learn from exchanges between French, German, Austrian and British institutions and stakeholder indigenous communities. REPATRIATES examines how contested objects―whose ownership may remain unclear―can be concieved and exhibited sensitively. It develops strategies for making artistic responses to this material, to propose ways forward for the decolonization of cultural property. This research aspires to shape a pan-European response to the complex political, historical, and affective dimensions of the repatriation of cultural assets. A casuistic approach is taken to analysing four major European museums’ ―the Musée du quai Branly Paris, Humboldt Forum Berlin, Manchester Museum, and Weltmuseum Vienna―approaches to concrete, current repatriation processes. Can different modes of property be learnt from cultures whose emphasis is on reciprocal relationships rather than individual material accumulations? Comparing repatriation processes to Mexico, Australia, Nigeria, Bénin and Namibia, REPATRIATES proposes new models of co-ownership. This is essential to redress historical power imbalances and their display as national heritage. What questions can be asked of repatriated objects, as in what personalities, powers, and performances do they bring with them? REPATRIATES’ over-arching objective is to exemplify artistic and stakeholder community dimensions heretofore underrepresented in repatriation debates. Multiple voices gathered in artistic research and fieldwork, from milieus of museum professionals that may be sceptical of repatriation, and those working in politics, social justice, and academics, together produce REPATRIATES that define the significance and future potential of repatriation.