Interviews in Windhoek – work in progress

During the return of Belongings from Berlin 2022

Recent repatriations from the Manchester Museum to Groote Eylandt Australia brought a collection of children’s dolls made out of shells back to a community that had all but discontinued the production of these delicate devices to used to playfully explain (kinship) relationships. The memory of playing with these dolls emerged and circulated between generations, quickly making it clear that this repatriation was a significant one for this community because it constituted a revival of artistic and crafting practices but also of narration in which knowledge is transferred. The question of whether or where knowledge sits, whether it can be embodied in a material or needs a narrator can be read through this example in which the small dolls accrue inherent meanings, and yet it is the person who plays with it, who ultimately also activates it. Herein the role of video emerges as an important dimension of the repatriation and its communication beyond the community. Often when installed in museums the repatriated can be represented through moving images. They can remain and continue to speak through their digital avatars. Their role as ambassadors is effectively mediated this way, arguably more effectively than the material object displayed, or stored on its own, because without a narrator of its knowledge, it remains rather mute.

The question for the filmmaker of this documentation of a repatriated object and its attendant narratives is how to give voice? When voicelessness has politically been so intentionally maintained. A second example of a Namibian doll that unexpectedly became the most gripping of a group of objects repatriated from Berlin in 2021 will be given here. Uatunua, this doll, unlocked notions of fertility, un-restituted genocide, dispossession of land, and gender constructions under colonialism. How this discursive dimension can affectively be also repatriated with a material ancestor is a question that leads many artists to film.

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This is what i’m exploring at present in a film project of which you see first background interview materials above (from Namibia in 2022). A forthcoming article in Journal of Visual Culture in 2026 on The Moving Image as Medium of Restitution will appear with the working title of The Digital Avatars of the Repatriated: video art installations in place and as voice of returned ancestors.