Art historian Cécile Fromont (Yale), founding member of the Working Group on Slavery and Visual Culture, was featured in a New York Times piece published on Jan. 3 about a report that calls for artworks to leave French museums and return to West Africa.
The piece is a partially transcribed conversation between Cécile–who is an art historian at Yale University, the Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne–who also teaches at Columbia University, Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, and the reporter, Jason Farago. The debate started in 2017, when French president Emmanuel Macron said that there should be some sort of restitution of the African artwork present in French collections to the countries where they were produced.
The debate developed when a report written by academics Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr, published in November 21, 2018, called for the return of thousands of works of art to African countries. Specifically, the report asks for the restitution of “any objects taken by force or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions,” according to the NYT.
“For objects to circulate globally, with real fluidity, Africans have to have the means to participate,” says Cécile in the NYT piece. She points out to the “grotesque” asymmetry between the two sides–Europe and Africa–in the discussion, since 90 to 95% of Sub-Sahan Africa heritage is maintained abroad.
Former assistant professor of art history at the University of Chicago, Cécile Fromont is now an associate professor in the history of art department at Yale. In her research, she “focus on the visual, material, and religious culture of Africa and Latin America with a special emphasis on the early modern period (ca 1500-1800) and on the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic World.”