Within the context of rising calls to decolonize museums, this talk proposes to re-examine two sets of contradictions that pervade contemporary heritage regimes in the international arena. The first is based on the circumstance that the preservation and protection of cultural heritage as well as the restitution of artworks are contingent on their status as property. But what kind of property does art engender given that it also occupies the status of a common good? The second set of contradictions pertains to the historical roots of the international regulations and conventions designed to safeguard cultural heritage as they have developed out of laws that govern times of war, or rather what counts as war at certain conjunctures, leaving out colonial, imperial, and structural violence that has likewise driven the looting, destruction, and expropriation of cultural sites and artistic objects. Efforts to extent the protections of “cultural property” to times of peace by shifting from them from purview of humanitarian to human rights law are ongoing and yet have proven difficult not least because cultural heritage continues to be refracted through the national frame rather than centering communities of origin. But even if established, how effective do such extensions stand to be if the violence of (dis)possession that has been constitutive for the art world and its institutions remains unaddressed? The presentation pursues these questions within the framework of an ongoing research project on the ways in which art dispossessed in episodes of state violence against non-Muslims in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish republic have shaped the knowledge production on (post-)Ottoman art and heritage.
Banu Karaca works at the intersection of political anthropology and critical theory, art and aesthetics, nationalism and cultural policy, museum and feminist memory studies. She holds a Ph.D. from the Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Her recent publications interrogate freedom of expression in the arts, the visualization of gendered memories of war and political violence, visual literacy, and restitution. She is the author of The National Frame: Art and State Violence in Turkey and Germany (Fordham University Press, 2021), and co-editor of Women Mobilizing Memory (Columbia University Press, 2019). Banu is the co-founder of Siyah Bant, a research platform that documents censorship in the arts in Turkey. She has been Visiting Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at Sabanci University and Faculty Fellow at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference and held fellowships in the Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices and Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe (EUME), research programs at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin in the academic years 2015/16 and 2016/17, along with being an Affiliated Fellow at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry (2015/16). In 2019, she returned as a EUME Fellow supported by the VolkswagenStiftung through its funding initiative “Original – isn't it? New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Studies,” and continues to be affiliated with EUME for the academic year 2021/22.