Abstract

This article is a transdisciplinary inquiry into catastrophic art—artworks whose worlds the empires destroyed and brutally deported to the imperial metropoles. At issue is the impossibility of seeing and speaking of catastrophic art, without at the same time speaking of both systems of knowledge and life forms and of the colonial inheritance and epistemicide. The article follows various historical events, such as Léopold Sédar Senghor's encounter with African art in Paris after World War I and the British colonial destruction of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897; turns to a conference held at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin in 2018; and disturbs Emmanuel Macron's 2017 speech at the University of Ouagadougou and the 2018 French presidential report on restitution. It shows how provenance exhibits epistemicide as it restitutes “looted” art to colonial beneficiaries, and how the incalculability of catastrophic art is to be found in hospitality.

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