Missed Art or Missing Art? Contemporary artistic practices dealing with questions of colonial looting of art

Veronika Rudorfer

Palavras-chave: Post-colonial; Contemporary Art; Looting; Restitution; Repatriation

Participação: on-line

This paper is aiming to analyze different methods and strategies employed by contemporary artists to deal with looted works of art in the colonial context. Focusing on artistic representations of colonial looting – meaning the forced transfer of property from owners from the former “colonies” to new owners in Europe and the US – a set of research questions will be addressed in this paper: How can colonial theft and robbery as well as the destruction of contexts be visualized by contemporary artists? Which forms of medialization can be found for the absence of these stolen objects and the destructed relationships between them and their lawful owners? How can the lost object made be seen again using the media of photography and film? In which ways are these stolen objects witnesses of trauma and how can experiences of trauma be included in photographic or filmic images?

The paper will also bring into focus the relationship between the institution and artistic practices and will deal with the following research questions: What do these artistic projects mean for the relationship between the institution and the artist? How can these works be contextualized in terms of institutional critique? Since many of these artistic projects were commissioned by museums, developing an analysis through the lens of institutional critique will be a fundamental part of this paper.

The paper will consist of two case studies, analyzing first Emeka Ogboh’s "Missing in Benin" (2020/2021) and then Philip Kojo Metz’s "SORRYFORNOTHING" (2019). Both works are important artistic contributions to decolonize museums, on the one hand the Museum für Völkerkunde in Dresden, on the other hand the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Emeka Ogboh is developing a specific image practice, referencing inventory photography and documentary photography, discourses of the visual archive, as well as posters looking for missing persons to search for missing objects. Philip Kojo Metz is interested in the relationship between performance and its documentation, meaning both photography and film and is dealing with questions of absence and void within the museum context.


Dan Hicks, The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, London: Pluto Press, 2020.
Barnaby Phillips, LOOT: Britain and the Benin Bronzes, London: Oneworld Publications, 2022.
Barbara Plankensteiner (ed.), Benin: Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, Gent: Snoeck, 2007.
Felwine Sarr/Bénédicte Savoy, Zurückgeben: Über die Restitution afrikanischer Kulturgüter, Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2019.
Bénédicte Savoy, Afrikas Kampf um seine Kunst: Geschichte einer postkolonialen Niederlage, Munich: C. H. Beck, 2021.


Veronika Rudorfer is an academic and a curator at Kunstforum Wien based in Vienna. She studied art history at the universities of Hamburg and Vienna. Since March 2019, she has been working on her dissertation Seeing the Void? Different Approaches to Visual Representation of ‘Aryanizations’ in Contemporary Artistic Positions – supervised by Prof. Sabeth Buchmann at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. The focus of her research is aesthetics of the void, questions of memory, objects lost and how the past can be made visible through contemporary artistic practices. Her critical writing has been published in numerous exhibition catalogues, journals, and magazines.