Session 2 | Saturday 1 June 2019


The Local Implications of Debates Around Ancestral and Sacred Objects in Public Collections


Roundtable Discussion

JAG East Gallery, 13:00-15:00


The Local Implications of Debates Around Ancestral and Sacred Objects in Public Collections

On an international scale, the increasing call to repatriate colonial-era objects from European and Western museums and art institutions to their place and people of origin, has raised numerous issues and considerations for both the proponents of, and those against, such restitution.

Some of these issues are particularly pertinent on a local level as well. Many South African museums hold items of particular cultural and religious significance, and which may be of an extremely sensitive nature, including human remains and sacred objects. This situation is of larger significance to current debates around reparation, considering the fact that many of these objects were initially collected under colonial and apartheid conditions, without the consent of their makers or the communities from which they originated.

What are larger considerations to take into account for the institutions and the communities involved? Among the many questions that need to be considered are the following:

  • What are the social, political and metaphysical imperatives that are driving the calls for repatriation?

  • To what extent does the concentration of objects, archives and skills in the major economic centres such as Johannesburg prejudice other less resourced localities in terms of access and furthering indigenous knowledge?

  • If repatriation were to take place, who would be the future custodians of these objects and what would be appropriate ways of handling them?

  • What would be appropriate policies and legislative frameworks to help navigate this relatively new terrain?

  • What are the implications of cultural and religious rights when it comes to objects that are held in public and/or private collections?

  • Can sacred objects be treated in the same way as ordinary commodities?

  • What are the ethics related to the selling, trading, loaning and acquisition of sacred objects?

  • What case studies can/should be looked at as best practice in this field?

  • What kind of relationship should there be between collectors, institutions, researchers, holders of sacred knowledge and originating communities with regard to traditional objects?

For more information, please contact:

James Macdonald (VIAD) | email

Musha Neluheni (JAG) | email

Whilst this is a closed roundtable discussion, researchers, students, scholars and interested parties are welcome to attend.

Seating is extremely limited, RSVP is essential

Click below to listen to the audio from the session: