This is “Supreme Remains”, Rugamba’s latest work.
The theatrical performance tells the story of an ancient mask stored in a European museum that guides a young African on his quest to discover the soul of Africa.
“I wanted to try to renew the way we look at these heritage objects, Dorcy Rugamba explains. In order to renew it, we must first consider how we look at them and question the museums which are institutions where these works are stored, fixed but also put in a certain staging.This is why this installation is a way to put the museum in the museum and we invite the spectator, not to look at the mask, but to look at the museum itself.”
The project is one of the works presented at this year’s Biennale of Contemporary African Art. During the performance at the Dakar museum of Black Civilisations, the spectators follow the artefact that has come to life as a woman.
Where does African art belong?
The playwright wanted to question the place of African art in Western buildings: “If I consider that it is almost unthinkable that a continent can be emptied of its own heritage and that this heritage can be found elsewhere. An African researcher who would like to work on the history of his country would have to travel far away with no guarantee he will even be given a visa. In a way, this situation cannot remain unchanged.”
If former colonial powers like France and Belgium are on their way to giving back stolen of African works of art, hundreds of thousands continue to be held in museums and private collections.
For Patrick Joel Yonkeu, a spectator, African still have to be aware of their own history: “One can be under the impression that despite all the efforts pan-Africanist NGOs make for the looted artefacts to be returned, there is still a lot of amnesia on the African continent, at least on a historical point of view.”
The character of the play Supreme Remains urges the spectators and de facto museum visitors to learn to “unlearn the past“.
Towards the end of the play, spectators find themselves among the rolling hills of Rwanda for an initiation ceremony.