Thinking about Restitution

An Interactive Documentary Research Project by Martin Doll

»Wova le mía fim be yewoaɖe foto kple video ne mↄɖeɖe li, ne mↄɖeɖe li. Nu si ta wobe yewoaɖee la, edze be míanya gake mava nye kuxi na mí oa? […] Abe alesi ke ametsitsiawo gblɔe la, míe- ɖe mↄ be wo ne ɖe foto kple video gake ma va nye kuxi na mí oa?«
»They are here to use (steal from) us by asking if they may take pictures and record videos of the event. We need to know the reason why they want to take pictures and to record. […] As the Elders said, we allow them to take pictures and to record videos, but we wonder if this will have a negative impact on us.«

(Kwame Ekpe, Togbui Opeku VI and others during the meeting with people
from the Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando, September 25th, 2021) [1]

Field recording containing the quote

These statements and questions by some of the Chiefs and Elders of the Akpini Traditional Council, among others Kwame Ekpe and Togbui Opeku VI, during the first visit of our research group in Kpando in September 2021, lead right into the middle of the complexities of this interactive documentary »Epistemologies of Restitution«: Who is speaking? Who is recording? Who will be able to have significant influence on the meaning and the circulation of the documentary? Who will own the resulting material? Who will profit from it?
The documentary is part of a larger research context, in particular the work of the International Fellow Group 5 ›The 4Rs in Africa: Reality or Transcultural Aphasia?‹ at the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) between September and December 2021 (Kokou Azamede, Martin Doll, Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo, Stefanie Michels, Jakob Zollmann [2]). MIASA is based at the University of Ghana in Accra, which offers infrastructure and administration, and sponsored by the Germany Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) via MIASA’s German partners.
The group took as a starting point a specific restitution case from the Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando concerning objects described as »Akpini royal regalia«. The requested belongings were brought to Germany between 1895 and 1914 under circumstances still under investigation. [3] They are currently held by the Ethnological Museum in Berlin (Germany). Starting from this, the research of our group at the MIASA aimed at moving »the debate about restitution from a practical to an epistemological level by
a) multiplying the voices/narratives of interest groups on local, national and international levels«
b) multiplying the perspectives on the issues«. [4]
This is a task that is easier said than done because the topic of restitution is characterized by a plethora of ambivalent sometimes contradicting even conflicting interests and demands. Just to name a few areas that exist side by side: jurisdiction, politics, ethics, economics, up to practical issues of conservation and cataloguing in the museums and so on and so on. Even if you take these areas separately, they are already complex, but at least a number of distinct questions and answers is possible from each perspective. But if you look at the entanglements between them, the resulting challenges seem endless, because the different demands do not necessarily add up. This leads to question like: Which area is more important? Can one privilege a specific one? At which cost? Is, e.g., the fact that the political level was or is currently privileged part of the problem?
Accordingly, the actors and interest groups involved are equally manifold: kings on behalf of their chiefdoms, political activists, curators and artists, museum staff and directors, state actors from African and European governments (down to the federal level in Germany).
To give one example from the restitution case that was in the center of our research project: During our meeting with the representatives of the Akpini Traditional Council at Kpando Palace an intricate question became more and more apparent: If the restitution of these belongings will happen as requested, where will the objects finally be stored or shown? In the Panafrican Heritage Museum at Pomadze Hills near Winneba in Ghana? During the sod-cutting ceremony which took place in May 2021 the President of the Republic of Ghana, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced that it will »provide a resting place for all the looted artefacts housed in foreign museums in Europe and elsewhere«? [5] Or in the National Museum of Ghana in Accra which was already founded in the year of Ghana’s independence, in 1957, and which already houses many of its cultural artifacts. Or in the Kpando Palace Museum, which is already under construction? As some of the belongings are »highly spiritual« according to the Chiefs and Elders from the Akpini Traditional Council, will they be allowed to hide these »regalia« from public display? Who will have the right to decide upon this? Thus, even if there is a willingness of German museums to give back the belongings of the Akpini Traditional Council, it will not necessarily lead to a solution of the case, but perhaps to new tensions »when government-to-government exchanges result in the marginalization of representatives of recipient communities and families«. [6]


»Woʄe teʄe sia vava gana dzideʄo mí be míaʄe kesinↄnuwo mebu o. Nya siwo katã míegblↄ la, wonetsↄe de dↄwↄwↄ me eye woalée ɖe agbalẽ dzi be le γleti wuievea mea, ne wogatrↄ va la, agbalẽ siwo míawↄ la nade mía dzi.«
Their coming has given us hope that our treasures are not lost. They should put all that we have said into practice and record it in a book so that when they return in December, the book that they will write would help us.«

(Togbui Opeku VI in his final statement during the meeting
with people from the Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando, September 25th, 2021) [7]  

Field recording containing the quote
with on-site translation by Wazi Apoh

With the International Fellow Group 5 there is another interest group involved in the restitution case I did not mention yet: scholars from the Humanities, which I am part of. And from this perspective, I in turn can specifically talk about the strong tensions that I felt between scholarly approaches and political or rather ethical positions implicated in that field. From the very first, we were quite aware of the fact that we are not neutral observers that look on the field from a meta-perspective, but that we are a part of it linked to questions like: »How does our research feed into the practical level of restitution?« Or more specific: »How do you proceed, if you find out that your scholarly findings might not bring forward, but make a restitution case more complex?«
Right from the start of our investigation about the epistemologies of restitution, I decided to deal with them not in a textual, but in an audiovisual way. This film project is not meant to give definite answers. You will not find a linear realist historical narrative. Instead, you will be faced with opinions and statements from very different perspectives. To a large extent Vivian Sobchack’s thoughts on »historiographic heteroglossia« [8] were guiding me while developing the film’s concept. To quote her, in the project you will encounter little by little »incompatible stories from incompatible speaking positions«. [9] That’s why you won’t find an omniscient narrator who voices over und homogenizes the different perspectives. By this absence I want to leave room for a »multiplicity of viewpoints«: [10]
In the course of research, I met representatives of the »source communities« [11], museum employees in Germany and Ghana, curators, filmmakers and other artists, scholars in Archaeology, History and Anthropology. I visited locations like regional, municipal and national museums in Ghana and Germany, museum construction sites, historical sites like the former colonial German residence in Kpando-Todzi. I also consulted lots of websites and Youtube-Videos etc.
Against the background of avoiding a uniform realist narrative, the idea that led to this audiovisual approach was furthermore guided by the question: How can we take all these entanglements into consideration without ending up in a certain »differentialism« or »diversificationism« (to borrow some critical concepts from Helen Verran). [12] She warns against this, because postcolonialism would thus to a certain extent »maintain the purities« (for example putting stable »indigenous forms of knowledge« vs. »western forms« etc.). [13] Not without reason does the project proposal in its opening sentence decidedly speak about opening up the »dichotomous visions of the restitution debate« followed by elaborations that take up the notion »relationship«, »relation« nine times. [14]
In order to take this thinking in relations seriously, the film is realized as an interactive documentary, not by presupposing independent entities or relata that would be put into interaction afterwards but by conceiving of the relata starting from the relations. [15] I think it is not enough just to juxtapose different voices (»the African and »the Western« voice) without falling into the trap of the »diversificationism«, Verran warns against. Thus, I associate my decision to offer this documentary research project in an interactive form with the hope that the »links« (in a literal and in a figurative sense) between the different video clips put this thinking in relations into action. This allows the viewer to follow different paths according to their interests inside the project’s thematic landscape. This will also lead to different results depending on the relations which will be realized: sometimes surprising, sometimes boring, sometimes enlightening, sometimes confusing, sometimes disturbing—hopefully never offending.
By using this interactive approach, I by no means want to claim for myself an innocent, neutral position. This project is anything else than devoid of power relations, because it is as every film a result of many biased choices, e.g., which material is used and which material is not, how is it juxtaposed in the edited sequences and, last but not least, which keywords that structure the material in the background are used and who has decided on them.

1970ies / activism / all / art / auction_house / berlin / british / british_museum / career / civil_society / collecting / colonial / conservatory_practices / craftsmanship / dagadu / dead_people / depot / documenting / end_credits / end_end / exchange / exhibition / film / germans / ghana / gruner / high_number / human_remains / illegal / image_of_africa / image_of_europe / inventory / ivory_horn / jaw / kersting / klouto / kotekpor / kpando / kpando_anfang / lack_of_knowledge / london / money / museum / museum_history / national_nterests / pan_africanism / power / provenance_research / regalia / regional_interests / relation_to_the_object / repair / restitution / rjm / spiritual / state_actors / techniques / todzi / unesco_convention / vaccination / value / violence / volta_region / war

(Keywords used in the Software Korsakow) [16] 

During my reflection on these power relations, I was not only influenced by books, but also by films – and this in the sense of an embracing and a renouncing.  Furthermore, I also discussed lots of options with colleagues from ethnography as well as media, film and game studies. [17] As one result, I decided, e.g., against handing over my camera to the actors involved. There are quite striking examples of films that succeed with this strategy, think of: Moritz Siebert’s, Estephan Wagner’s und Abou Bakar Sidibé’s Les sauteurs (D 2016) or Agostino Ferrente’s Selfie (I, F 2019). [18]  Nevertheless, in less impressive films this strategy has on the other hand become a certain gesture to prevent being criticized for cinematic decisions. Instead, and this should again not be understood as a panacea, I decided to involve myself as far as possible, to make my perspectivity evident, e.g. by including my voice, by making my ›camera I‹, my ›camera eye‹ clearly noticeable, but not ostensibly visible. One key moment was also to ask some Chiefs of the Akpini Traditional Council to approve the final cut of those sequences including them during the closing conference of the project in December 2021.


Getting the Approval for the Final Cut of Sequences Important for the Representatives from the Akpini Traditional Council (December 13th, 2021)

Photos: Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo 


Last but not least, this interactive documentary research project is an exemplar of a genre I would like to call ›Audiovisual Historiography‹, a sort of subgenre of ›Digital History‹. ›Audiovisual Historiography‹ is a term I did not invent. In fact, if you search for it in scholarly journals, you will find quite a few articles who speak of it. [19] Nevertheless, I would like to take a slightly different understanding of it. For the term ›Audiovisual Historiography‹, in a traditional sense, is on the one hand mostly used to speak about the indispensable audio-visual materials like film, photography, sound-recordings every historian has to take into consideration during his or her research process. On the other hand, it is used to speak about audio- and video-recordings used during the research process in order to prepare the final written results. In both cases »audiovisual« is used as an attribute, a quality of the sources. I would like to argue that this important way of audiovisual historiography does not have to be replaced, but complemented by an audiovisual historiography that applies to the outcomes. Hence, »Epistemologies of Restitution« includes audio and video recordings made by myself, found footage, desktop documentary sequences and photographs not only as historical sources, but also as media for the publication of scientific results. It is meant to show how complex the field is, to bring to the fore the »complexities and ambiguities of colonial entanglements«, to quote Ann Laura Stoler. [20] Eventually, it aims at dealing with ›colonial aphasia‹, »a difficulty speaking, a difficulty generating a vocabulary that associates appropriate words and concepts with appropriate things«. [21]  I would like to understand this difficulty as well with regard to audiovisual aspects as »a persistent attempt not to notice«. [22] By redirecting the attention to the multifaceted aspects of restitution, the film is hopefully one starting point for doing things differently and dismantling ›colonial aphasia‹ little by little.
»Epistemologies of Restitution« is an experiment, an openly designed project which aims at offering an ever-moving complex kaleidoscope of restitution issues leading to constantly changing patterns. In the end, these are the results of the relations produced by me, my interviewees, the locations visited, the viewers or even by chance. 

Martin Doll, February 2022

About me

After studying ›Drama, Theatre, Media‹ in Gießen, I earned my Ph.D. in Media Studies in Frankfurt/M. After two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the ICI Berlin, I was an Assistant Professor in the research project ›Aesthetical Figurations of the Political‹ in Luxemburg. Currently, I am Junior Professor for Media and Cultural Studies at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf. I have published articles and book chapters on audiovisual historiography, politics and media, architecture as a medium, utopias and media.

Further info:


Epistemologies of Restitution

Interactive Documentary Film

The film window is divided into a larger upper part and a lower part with three tiles. In the upper part you can watch a specific clip (you can start and stop it with the play button on the left, but you can’t move the playhead in the player, the number on the right shows the total time of the clip).
Depending on where you are in the film, further clips will show up sooner or later in the lower third of the window. If you mouse over a clip, you can preview it (including audio). When you click on it, the respective clip will be shown in the upper part (and further clips will show up, sometimes immediately, sometimes later).
If you just want to listen to the clip in the upper part, make sure that you move your mouse pointer there in order to prevent hearing two clips at once (the film in the upper part and previews of further clips). 

The research leading to these results has received funding from the Maria Sibylla Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the grant nº 01 UK12024A. MIASA is co-funded by the University of Ghana.


[1] Transcription and translation from the local language Ewe by Hope Dekorn and Kokou Azamede.
[2] As every IFG at the MIASA the IFG 5 had also two external principal investigators: Wazi Apoh, University of Ghana, and Miriam Brusius, German Historical Institute London.
[3] See IFG 5 Working Paper and Wazi Apoh: Revelations of Dominance and Resilience. Unearthing the Buried Past of the Akpini, Akan, Germans and British at Kpando, Ghana, Legon-Accra, Ghana 2019) and Jan Huesgen: »Colonial Expeditions and Collecting – The Context of the ›Togo-Hinterland Expedition‹ of 1894/1895«, in: Journal for Art Market Studies, no 1 (2020), pp. 1–12
[4] See IFG 5 Working Paper.
[5] Association of African Universities: »Sod-Cutting Ceremony of the Pan African World Heritage Museum«, 05.05.2021,, accessed 20.11.2021; my emphasis.
[6] Cf. Wazi Apoh and Andreas Mehler: »Vom Rande aus betrachtet. Das Humboldt-Forum und die Restitutionsdebatte«, in: WeltTrends. Das außenpolitische Journal, no 179 (2021); my translation.
[7] Transcription and translation from the local language Ewe by Hope Dekorn.
[8] Vivian Sobchack: »The Insistent Fringe: Moving Images and Historical Consciousness«, in: History and Theory 36, no. 4 (1997), pp. 4–20, here p. 7.
[9] Vivian Sobchack: »Introduction. History Happens«, in: Vivian Sobchack (ed.): The Persistence of History. Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event, New York, NY 1996, pp 1–14, here p. 8 and 11.
[10] Robert A. Rosenstone: »The Persistence of History. Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event«, in: Vivian Sobchack (ed.): The Persistence of History. Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event, New York, NY 1996, pp. 201–218, here p. 206.
[11] A problematic term that in itself should be put under close scrutiny.
[12] Helen Verran: Science and an African Logic, Chicago, IL 2001, p. 32.
[13] Ibid, p. 27.
[14] Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo and Stefanie Michels: »Application Interdisciplinary Fellow Group (Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa) ›The 4Rs in Africa: Reality or Transcultural Aphasia?‹«
[15] Sure, this idea is heavily influenced by Karen Barad: Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham, NC 2007, p. 136–40.
[16] Korsakow is a software to produce interactive documentaries. It was and is developed by Florian Thalhofer. Version 6 is programmed by David Reisch.
[17] My special thanks go to Anja Dreschke, Florian Krautkrämer, Florian Thalhofer and Britta Neitzel. Thanks also to Frederic Labudda for excellent technical support. And a special thanks also to Haike Rausch and Torsten Grosch for their design impulses for the homepage.
[18] Sven Seibel: »Die Kamera übergeben. Montage und kollaboratives Filmemachen in ›Les sauteurs‹«, in: Martin Doll (ed.): Cutting Edge! Aktuelle Positionen der Filmmontage, Berlin 2019, pp. 157–184.
[19] See e.g. Albert Lichtblau: »Challenges and Perspectives of Audio-Visual History / Retos y Perspectivas de la Historia Audiovisual«, in: Words and Silences. The Journal of the International Oral History Association, vol. 7, no. 1 (2015), ‹›, accessed 16.02.2020.
[20] Ann Laura Stoler: »Colonial Aphasia. Race and Disabled Histories in France«, in: Public Culture 23.1 (2011), pp. 121–156, here p. 155,
[21] Ibid., p. 125.
[22] Ibid., p. 152; see also Martin Doll: »Pour une historiographie audiovisuelle. La situation coloniale entre le Cameroun et l’Allemagne«, in: Albert Gouaffo, Colbert Akieudji and Diderot Djiala Mellie (eds.): Mémoire, paix et développement en Afrique. Réflexions sur/autour d’une éthique de la souvenance en contexte (post)colonial, Saarbrücken: Presses Universitaires de la Sarre 2022.

Sources Heard and Shown in the Film

Fiator Robert Agorbortu, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Togbui Amanyo V, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Christian Andert, Senior Collections Manager, Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne
Augustin Atitse, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Association of African Universities: »Sod-Cutting Ceremony of the Pan African World Heritage Museum«, 05.05.2021,, accessed 20.11.2021
Nanna Ofariatta Ayim, writer, curator and filmmaker
Dave Boampong: »Introducing The Pan African Heritage Museum Project,, accessed 20.11.2021
Christie’s: »African & Oceanic Art«,, accessed 20.11.2021
Togbui Dake IV, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Kwame Ekpe, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo, University of Ghana
Yagmur Karakis, Research Fellow for Provenance Research, Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne
Kosi Dzablu-Kumah, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Lempertz: »African and Oceanic Art«,, accessed 20.11.2021
Stefanie Michels, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Togbui Opeku VI, Akpini Traditional Area in Kpando
Nii Kwate Owoo, Director of the film You Hide Me
Philip Owusu, Curator of the Institute of African Studies Teaching Museum, University of Ghana
The Panafrican Heritage World Museum,, accessed 20.11.2021
Parliament of the Republic of South Africa: »Pan African Parliament – Official opening of the 4th Ordinary session of the Fifth Parliament«, 24.05.2021,, accessed 20.11.2021
Malik Saako, Principal Curator of the National Museum of Ghana, Accra
David Simo, Deutsch-afrikanisches Wissenschaftszentrum, The University of Yaoundé I
Sotheby’s: »Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas«,, accessed 20.11.2021
Sotheby’s: »Selling African or Oceanic Art with Sotheby's«,, accessed 20.11.2021
Zemanek-Münster: »Tribal Art Auktion«,, accessed 20.11.2021 

Movies Watched

Stéphane Breton: Eux et moi (F 2017)
Terence Dixon: Meeting The Man: James Baldwin In Paris (GB, F 1970)
Agostino Ferrente: Selfie (I, F 2019)
Onyeka Igwe: A So-Called Archive (UK 2020)
Nii-Kwate Owoo: You Hide Me (GH 1971)
Pier Paolo Pasolini: Appunti Per Un'orestiade Africana (I 1975)
Alain Resnais, Chris Marker: Les statues meurent aussi (F 1953)
Jean Rouch: Jaguar (F 1967)
Jean Rouch: Les Maîtres fous (F 1956)
Dennis O'Rourke: Cannibal Tours (AUS 1988)
Elena Schilling, Saitabao Kaiyare: If Objects Could Speak (D, K 2020)
Ousmane Sembène: La noire de... (SEN, F 1966)
Moritz Siebert, Estephan Wagner and Abou Bakar Sidibé: Les sauteurs (D 2016)
Moritz Siebert and Abou Bakar Sidibé: ma nouvelle vie européene (D 2019)