Lecture: Sir David Adjaye & Chika Okeke-Agulu

Nov 18, 2021, 8:00 pm9:30 pm
Virtual, YouTube Live
Public / Open To All
Event Description

The debate about resti­tu­tion and the ethics of West­ern muse­ums’ own­ing African art­works col­lected dur­ing the era of col­o­niza­tion has never been more in the pub­lic eye. Most well-known, per­haps, are the ​“Benin bronzes,” artis­tic and royal heir­looms made since the 13th cen­tury by highly spe­cial­ized met­al­work­ers in the King­dom of Benin (now south­ern Nige­ria). In 1897, British forces sacked the cap­i­tal of this pros­per­ous king­dom. They tore sculp­tures and plaques from the palace walls, and took them back to Europe, where the looted trea­sures were sold to muse­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tors. The royal court of Benin, Niger­ian offi­cials, and high-pro­file schol­ars such as Pro­fes­sor Chika Okeke-Agulu (Prince­ton) have been demand­ing their return for decades. Increas­ingly, muse­ums based in the Global North have been lis­ten­ing to these calls for repa­tri­a­tion, and some have pledged to return works from their col­lec­tions. To pro­vide a new home for the repa­tri­ated works, plans for a new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), are cur­rently in devel­op­ment with world renowned archi­tect Sir David Adjaye lead­ing the build­ing design project.

On the occa­sion of Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion, a pub­lic inves­ti­ga­tion into our own col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA), Sir David Adjaye and Pro­fes­sor Chika Okeke-Agulu will dis­cuss their cur­rent and recent projects that address how works of art may re-enter the soci­eties they were torn away from. Laura De Becker, Interim Chief Cura­tor and the Hel­mut and Can­dis Stern Cura­tor of African Art at UMMA, will intro­duce the event.

Sir David Adjaye OBE is an award win­ning Ghana­ian-British archi­tect known to infuse his artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties and ethos for com­mu­nity-dri­ven projects. His inge­nious use of mate­ri­als, bespoke designs and vision­ary sen­si­bil­i­ties have set him apart as one of the lead­ing archi­tects of his gen­er­a­tion. In 2000, David founded his own prac­tice, Adjaye Asso­ciates, which today oper­ates glob­ally, with stu­dios in Accra, Lon­don, and New York tak­ing on projects that span the globe. The firm’s work ranges from pri­vate houses, bespoke fur­ni­ture col­lec­tions, prod­uct design, exhi­bi­tions, and tem­po­rary pavil­ions to major arts cen­ters, civic build­ings, and mas­ter plans. His most well known com­mis­sion to date, The National Museum of African Amer­i­can His­tory & Cul­ture in Wash­ing­ton, DC opened on the National Mall in Wash­ing­ton DC in 2016 and was named Cul­tural Event of the Year by The New York Times.

In 2017, Adjaye was knighted by Queen Eliz­a­beth II and was rec­og­nized as one of the 100 most influ­en­tial peo­ple of the year by TIME Mag­a­zine. Most recently, Adjaye was announced the win­ner of the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal. Approved per­son­ally by Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Gold Medal is con­sid­ered one of the high­est hon­ors in British archi­tec­ture for sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the field inter­na­tion­ally. Sir Adjaye is also the recip­i­ent of the World Eco­nomic Forum’s 27th Annual Crys­tal Award, which rec­og­nizes his ​“lead­er­ship in serv­ing com­mu­ni­ties, cities and the environment.

Chika Okeke-Agulu, an artist, critic and art his­to­rian, is direc­tor of the Pro­gram in African Stud­ies and pro­fes­sor of African and African Dias­pora art in the Depart­ment of African Amer­i­can Stud­ies, and Depart­ment of Art & Archae­ol­ogy, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity. His books include Yusuf Grillo: Paint­ing. Lagos. Life (Skira, 2020); Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text (Skira, 2016); Post­colo­nial Mod­ernism: Art and Decol­o­niza­tion in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tury Nige­ria (2015); and (with Okwui Enwe­zor), Con­tem­po­rary African Art Since 1980 (2010). He recently co-orga­nized, with Okwui Enwe­zor, El Anat­sui: Tri­umphant Scale (Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2019). He is co-edi­tor of Nka: Jour­nal of Con­tem­po­rary African Art, has writ­ten for The New York Times and Huff­in­g­ton Post, and main­tains the blog Ọfọdunka.

His many awards include The Melville J. Her­skovits Prize for the most impor­tant schol­arly work in African Stud­ies pub­lished in Eng­lish dur­ing the pre­ced­ing year (African Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion, 2016); and Frank Jew­ett Mather Award for Dis­tinc­tion in Art Crit­i­cism (Col­lege Art Asso­ci­a­tion, 2016).Okeke-Agulu serves on the advi­sory boards of the Hyundai Tate Research Cen­tre, Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don, The Africa Insti­tute, Shar­jah, and Bët-bi/Le Korsa Museum Project, Sene­gal. He is also on the advi­sory coun­cil of Mpala Research Cen­ter, Nanyuki, Kenya; serves on the exec­u­tive board of Prince­ton in Africa, and on the edi­to­r­ial boards of African Stud­ies Review and Jour­nal of Visual Cul­ture.

Laura De Becker is the Interim Chief Cura­tor and the Hel­mut and Can­dis Stern Cura­tor of African Art at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA). A spe­cial­ist in Cen­tral African art, she joined UMMA after a fel­low­ship at Wits Art Museum in Johan­nes­burg, South Africa. After many years of work­ing with a team to research to envi­sion a new instal­la­tion of UMMA’s African art col­lec­tion, De Becker’s We Write to You About Africa, a project that dou­bled the foot­print of the African gal­leries at UMMA, opened in Sep­tem­ber 2021. De Becker’s work on the rein­stal­la­tion led to Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion, a sep­a­rate project grap­pling with issues of resti­tu­tion, also on view at UMMA for the 2021 – 22 aca­d­e­mic year.

Lead sup­port for the UMMA exhi­bi­tion Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion is pro­vided by the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Office of the Provost and the Michi­gan Coun­cil for Arts and Cul­tural Affairs. 

Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion is on view at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (525 S. State St.) through July 3, 2022.


How to Watch

This Penny Stamps Speaker Series event will pre­mière on Novem­ber 18, 2021 at 8pm and can be viewed on this page, at dptv​.org, or on the Penny Stamps Series Face­book page.

Pre­sented in part­ner­ship with UMMA, with sup­port from Taub­man Col­lege of Archi­tec­ture and Urban Plan­ning. Our Fall 2021 Series is brought to you with the sup­port of our part­ners, Detroit Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion and PBS Books.


The event will also be streamed from this page. 

Event Type
Art and Culture
In Conversation
Event Category
AAS Recommended Events


Any individual, including visitors to campus, who requires an accommodation should contact Dionne Worthy (dworthy@princeton.edu) at least one week in advance of the event.