Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge (BEYONDREST)
On the backdrop of ongoing debates to decolonialize museums, Beyond Restitution asks if the return of looted art can be regarded as a closure of historical wounds. The project probes the focus on restitution that inadvertently casts dispossessed art in terms of contested property. Instead, it explores what kind of loss dispossessed art engenders, and how this loss has shaped the knowledge production on heritage. It focuses on the interlocution between Western Europe, the Near and Middle East, and North Africa, mapping relationships between people and “things” that have largely been left out of current debates. The project starts in the mid-19th century, which witnessed the rise of the museum in its modern form as well as violence unleashed by imperial and colonial projects and dispossession. Innumerable objects made their way into international collections, categorized mostly as “Islamic art,” or as the “universal heritage of humankind” that nonetheless symbolically and proprietarily belongs to the “West.” Taking restitution not as an endpoint but as the point of departure for its inquiry, Beyond Restitution tackles dispossession not as a loss to be mended but a means to transform knowledge through inquiries into absence. The interdisciplinary research group is employing a wide methodologically matrix, including ethnographic interviews, visual analysis of exhibitions, archival research, and examinations of the laws governing cultural assets to capture the proprietary stakes in the interplay of epistemic remembering and forgetting. The research also extends to contemporary artistic approaches to dispossessed heritage as alternate paths of knowledge making in a field that has to contend with impasses that arise when centering on what is absent rather than what is present, on what is lost, rather than found. Beyond Restitution argues that the dispossession of art is not merely a problematic of colonialism or empire, that is of the past, but an ongoing process that is constitutive for the governance of heritage in its national and transnational formations. Indeed, it is a precondition for the ways in which art and other “cultural assets” circulate.
This five-year project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 101045661), hosted by the Forum Transregionale Studien (Forum), and related to EUME.
Lost, Not Found? Violence, Dispossession, and the Re-Collecting of Post-Ottoman Art Histories
This research project centers on episodes of state violence against non-Muslims in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic. Different kinds of symbolic, material and economic dispossession were part of these episodes of state violence, in the course of which artworks were looted, confiscated, or made illegible. Based on archival research, oral histories, expert interviews, and examinations of the laws that have governed moveable heritage and art in the late Ottoman Empire, Turkey, and the international arena, this project asks: How has the material absence or misattribution of dispossessed artworks shaped the writing of art history, understandings of art, and the art world in Turkey and beyond? Following the traces of dispossessed art in Turkey and rereading diasporic art archives and collections in the U.S., this research also examines alternate forms of connectivity that have been lost through state violence. Rather than solely ascertaining their current location or ownership, this search for ‘lost’ art presents an avenue to contemplate the dynamics of remembering and forgetting in the knowledge production of art. Together with art looted by the Nazi regime, during colonial times, and the art plunder accompanying current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, this research suggests that the dispossession of art presents neither an aberration nor a practice of a distant past but is constitutive to the art world and its institutions.
Lost, not Found? Missing Provenance, ‘Lost’ Works, and the Writing of Art History in Turkey
Tentatively entitled “Lost, not Found? Missing Provenance, ‘Lost’ Works, and the Writing of Art History in Turkey”, this project aims to account for the phenomenon of missing provenance in Turkey. Although this lack is often attributed to “belated modernization”, Karaca proposes that missing provenance has to be understood within the context of different kinds of symbolic, material and economic dispossession that are deeply intertwined with the history of art and its institutions. Tracing the circulation of late Ottoman and early republican painting through ethnographic interviews and archival work, it focuses on the conceptual and practical obstacles that provenance research faces in Turkey today. Part of this inquiry is developing a better understanding of how collections categorized as Islamic or Ottoman art encapsulate or exclude non-Muslim producers – and how such taxonomies in turn have impacted the writing of (Ottoman) art history in Turkey. Central to this research is the assumption that, with missing provenance, we also loose the stories of artists, collectors and audiences – all of which are vital in our understanding of art historical trajectories. Rather than solely tracing current location or ownership, this research project proposes to see works of art as both cultural memory and historical witnesses.