The Global Art Project

Sustaining the Otherwise


For the past two centuries African scholars, communities, artists, activists and governments have demanded from Western museums and heritage institutions to ‘repatriate’ their cultural heritage objects.  Although a growing number of artifacts are gradually being returned to their places of origin, the conditions set by Western institutions and their governments are complicated, bureaucratic, expensive and often impossible to achieve. The wider discourse seems to be frozen in time. There’s a tendency to reduce the work to a process of accounting wherein the return of all cultural heritage objects to their ‘authentic’ place of origin is the only goal. This echoes the painful colonial status quo without carving out space for the reparative practices of artists, activists and communities who refuse and sustain the otherwise.


It’s time to move the restitution conversation forward and transform language,  policies and promises into meaningful actions. It should be a given to involve artists, activists,  intellectuals and communities from the Global South and the diaspora. These voices are crucial to ensure a successful re-imagining and re-defining of how we think about the care, afterlife and placement of illegally obtained artifacts and cultural objects currently housed within European collections. Restitution is not only about returning cultural heritage objects, but also about reconfiguring, rehabilitating and complicating the discourse around decoloniality, restitution and reparations.  Sustaining the Otherwise seeks to reckon with the colonial histories, technologies  and power structures that have led to the current situation, and how we imagine our worlds. Subsequently,  it also questions the demand that  the future homes and practices of care replicate the Eurocentric museum model. While the return of cultural heritage objects requires  an anti-imperial/decolonial temporality and emergence,  past colonial injustices still shape present policies. As set forth by Felwine Sarr in his 2020 conference The Restitution of African Artifacts, the question remains, “Can we overstep the epistemic violence that shapes our times?”In response to this,  Sustaining the Otherwise takes an active approach to engaging with the topic of restitution by dismantling the hierarchical institutional status quo, and focusing on artistic practices that activate decoloniality in different sites and multiple temporalities. 

Highlighting ongoing conversations and initiatives centered around decoloniality, as well as  emerging strategies of  restitution, we aim to create a program that will foreground pluriversal narratives, histories, and perspectives. Collaborating with researchers, artists, and curators, as well as existing community initiatives and research projects, we seek to make a meaningful contribution to the ongoing discourse around restitution by creating a platform for critical engagement and a breathing space for artistic practices to unfold organically, with the intention of stretching the concept of restitution beyond a discussion about museum practice and policy. 

Sustaining the Otherwise offers a space for artists, activists, researchers, scholars, writers and other cultural practitioners to be in dialogue and to explore the topic of restitution in relation to both material and immaterial culture. As the title suggests, this is a call to imagine the otherwise, to imagine alternatives to the long history of capture and containment by supporting and sustaining artistic practices that undo colonial amnesia by refusing or replacing it with alternatives. Drawing inspiration from Saidiya Hartman’s ongoing research about the afterlife of slavery, and what she describes as ‘troubling the line between history and imagination’, the title proposes a call for change through collective action. In Wayward Lives-Beautiful Experiments she writes: “The collective movement points toward what awaits us, what has yet come into view, what they anticipate-- the time and place better than here; a glimpse of the earth not owned by anyone.” Her observations are highly relevant within the context of a project that seeks to  support and sustain artistic practices that complicate the notion of decoloniality. 

The title itself is inspired by Hartman’s description of the collective chorus “as an incubator of possibility, an assembly sustaining dreams of the otherwise.” With this in mind, Sustaining the Otherwise  is an invitation for artists to create work in relation to specific objects, collections and concepts. This approach is part of a critical unfolding of the histories and genealogies of these objects while paying careful attention to not get caught in the trap of repeating and re-enacting the colonial power structures that we seek to erase. Placing emphasis on artistic practices as a means of engaging with the topic of restitution opens for an imagining of something better, an imagining of what restitution is beyond the geographical return of cultural heritage objects.  


The notion of sustaining the otherwise is also deeply connected to Kaiama L. Glover’s perspectives on practices of freedom and refusal, as conveyed in A Regarded Self. Her work offers a vantage point from which to engage with the work of other activists and thinkers who explore practices of freedom and refusal as forms of resistance, restitution and sustenance. As Glover frames it, engaging with practices of freedom requires giving space for critical reflection and, perhaps even more important “…to imagine refusal itself as a legitimate critique and to not burden the refuser with an obligation to fix things or to refashion the world for all of us.”  


Emphasizing the importance of active processes, this project fully embraces the radical potential that lies in this line of thinking. As an extension of this reading, we seek to explore the possibilities connected to a reimagining of what freedom might mean by actively and collectively decentering, disordering, decolonializing, undoing, unrooting, un-erasing, reimagining (ownership and belonging), returning or relocating or restituting (cultural heritage objects), retelling (historical narratives), reversing (power structures), rethinking (the alternatives), re-envisioning or reconstructing (the future), redefining (ownership and belonging), resisting (hegemony), repositioning (the discourse), replacing (stolen goods), remembering (silenced histories), reconsidering (the past), reclaiming (ownership), and rebelling (against coloniality or the colonial matrix of power).  

Ultimately, Sustaining the Otherwise is an opportunity to collectively rethink strategies and practicalities of restitution, to reclaim stories and histories, to reimagine what is possible, to resist and revolt against lingering colonial power structures in the present. We seek to collectively engage with the topic of restitution by focusing on artistic practices, everyday memory work and collaborative initiatives that are founded on the desire for radical transformation and a real commitment to creating change.  

This research and artistic project is organized in several  stages, and  takes the shape of a multi-locational program that will be developed in collaboration with the following institutions, initiatives and spaces: The Research Center for Material Culture and Metro 54 (Amsterdam), 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning (London), Pitt Rivers (Oxford), Nordic Black Theatre (Oslo), Afrikadaa (Paris), Guest Artists Space Foundation (Lagos), CCA Lagos, and Lusaka Contemporary Arts Center,  among others.


  • Researching the Otherwise: During this first stage (Spring 2023-Fall 2024) emphasis is placed on research, development, and the exchange of knowledge. Program content in 2024 will feature gatherings, residencies, and artistic activations, including a gathering at Nordic Black Theatre, Oslo,  and a conference at Lusaka Contemporary Art Centre, Zambia, among other events. 


  • Practicing the Otherwise: During this second stage (Fall 2024-Fall 2025), emphasis will be placed on facilitating artistic production for a multilocational exhibition project and publications that will tie the rhizomes of knowledge together into a comprehensive and meaningful whole. 


  • Maintaining the Otherwise: During the third stage (Fall 2025 and beyond), we will focus on developing a strategy beyond the duration of the project. We believe it is urgent to include maintenance work to ensure that the seeds of this project will grow beyond the project.


© Amal Alhaag and Selene Wendt


Practicing Freedom

In recent years, ongoing debates about the restitution of cultural heritage objects that were stolen within various colonial contexts have gained momentum in tandem with a general awareness about the prevalence of various social injustices throughout society. Essential to these discussions are the artists, communities, activist initiatives and intellectuals from the Global South and the diaspora whose voices and involvement are crucial to re-imagine and re-define how we think about the care and afterlives of illegally obtained artifacts and cultural objects currently housed within European collections. 

The concept of practicing freedom draws inspiration from Kaiama L. Glover’s book Regarded Self. As a title, Practicing Freedom hints at the radical potential that lies in Glover’s thinking. It helps define the scope and ambitions of the project while also allowing for multiple trajectories and narratives to unfold over the duration of the project, providing a conceptual starting point for the many paths we will embark on during the project, individually and collectively.

With this project, we attempt to facilitate opportunities to collectively unpack the topic of restitution by focusing on artistic practices, cultural work and initiatives that are founded on the desire for radical transformation and a commitment to creating change. With cultural heritage objects at the center of the project, and even more importantly, the life and spirit of cultural heritage objects as depositories of flows and energies, Practicing Freedom is also about confronting cultural amnesia through everyday memory work and a recognition of the knowledge and spiritual systems that are connected to cultural heritage objects. Working with artists, researchers, and museum professionals, Practicing Freedom featured workshops, public gatherings, conversations, lectures, and artistic interventions that took place throughout 2022. 









Beyond the Door of No Return: Confronting Hidden Colonial Histories through Contemporary Art

This richly illustrated book focuses on the lesser-known details of colonial history, with particular emphasis on stories of resistance and rebellion against colonial rule. The contemporary artists featured in this book include John Akomfrah, La Vaughn Belle, Manthia Diawara, Jeannette Ehlers, Michelle Eistrup, Sasha Huber, Oceana James, Patricia Kaersenhout, Grada Kilomba, Suchitra Mattai, and Alberta Whittle, who are all at the forefront of decolonial thinking. Through their artworks, they convey compelling narratives that shed light on the entangled colonial histories that connect Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. Collectively, these artists provide crucial insight into some of the lesser-known aspects of colonial history, such as Norwegian involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.  The artists featured in this book convey unique resistance stories about fearless freedom fighters such as Venus Johannes, Mary Thomas, Olaudah Equiano, and Anna Heegaard, thereby allowing for a deeper, more nuanced understanding of colonial history than the historical narratives that have typically been told from a Western perspective. These are stories of resistance that help, at least partially, to set the historical records straight. By highlighting the stories of those who have been historically silenced, we gain access to a more nuanced understanding of colonial history and the factors which have contributed to the continued effects of colonialism today, most evidently witnessed in the prevalence of racism, poverty, and forced migration.  Beyond the Door of No Return represents the first in a series of co-publications between The Africa Institute, Sharjah, and Skira, one of the oldest and leading publishers in the field of art and visual culture.

Publication for Listening to the Echoes of the South Atlantic

Listening to the Echoes of the South Atlantic

Listening to the Echoes of the South Atlantic highlights visual, sonic, and performative art practices that reflect a deep understanding of music and its overlapping histories. As the works in the exhibition convey, music and sound are particularly effective means of bringing history into contemporary space.The sonic heartbeat is found in socially engaged and historically conscious art practices that extend beyond the strict parameters of visual art, music, or performance. The deep interconnectivity between music and history is the underlying narrative of this exhibition. Building on the importance of music in relation to what Paul Gilroy refers to as “the Atlantic as a system of cultural exchanges”, the exhibition addresses the impact of music as a collective language of resistance and solidarity. The videos, sound-based sculptures, installations, and performances are all connected to the entangled histories of the South Atlantic. The participating artists guide us on what Satch Hoyt refers to as a journey from slave ship to spaceship. Highlights along the way include the Tupi-Valongo Cemetery, where Pankararu indigenous chants are interspersed with the sounds of gunshots from a favela; the Danish Marienborg residence, with its strong connection to the triangular trade, where Jeannette Ehlers performs a Vodou dance, and a haptic sound installation by Camille Norment that explores sonic interconnectivity conveyed through a soundscape that ranges from subdued humming to deep, rhythmic moaning. Participating artists: Cássio Bomfim, Jeannette Ehlers, Anita Ekman, Satch Hoyt, Neo Muyanga & William Kentridge, Camille Norment, Dawit L. Petros, and Nyugen E. Smith. Curated by Selene Wendt The multimedia digital catalogue, designed by Nadia Huggins is available here: With generous support from Goethe-Institut, Oslo Kunstforening, Nordic Black Theatre, Fritt Ord, The Norwegian Cultural Council, and Danish Arts Foundation.

The 13th Havana Biennial, 2019

The conceptual platform for the 13th Havana Biennial, under the theme “The Construction of the Possible”, proposed to be a stage for the exchange of ideas that would prioritize the necessity for balance between society, culture and nature. For the first time ever, The Havana Biennial also took place in other Cuban cities, including Matanzas, where Intermittent Rivers took place. As an invited artist to the 13th Havana Biennial, María Magdalena Campos-Pons took the opportunity to initiate a project that would revitalize the artistic community of Matanzas. As a native of Matanzas, she has a deep understanding of the rich cultural legacy of Matanzas and is conscious of how memory, trauma, and erasure can be resolved through transformative gestures. As Artistic Director of Intermittent Rivers, Campos-Pons appointed Octavio Zaya, Salah M. Hassan, and Selene Wendt as her curatorial team. Through this project we sought to revitalize the city through multiple exhibitions and artistic interventions that helped renew a sense of cultural pride within the community. In the selection of participating local and international artists, we placed emphasis on social actions that would have a long-term impact on the city of Matanzas. The goal was to revitalize the local art scene and to foster urban renewal through an extensive exhibition platform where local and international artists would converge. Intermittent Rivers featured over 50 local and international artists, including Ambreen Butt, Ingrid Calame, Collectivo Araigo, Iftikhar Dadi, Marilá Dardot, Manthia Diawara, Augustin Drake, Ediciones Vigia, Melvin Edwards, Guillermo Gallindo, Josephine Halvorson, Julie Mehretu, Ernesto Millan, Olu Oguibe, Ramon Pacheco, Claudia Padrón, Adriana Riera Pérez, Dawit L. Petros, Salomon, Jamaal Sheats, Tracey Snelling, Ana M. Velasco, Carrie Mae Weems, and Cosmo Whyte, among many others. Voted by Hyperallergic as one of the top 15 best exhibitions worldwide in 2019.

The Sea is History

The exhibition title is inspired by the seminal poem by the St.Lucian Nobel-laureate poet Derek Walcott. The reference serves to emphasise the poetic undercurrent of the exhibition, while also highlighting the relevance of great Caribbean thinkers such as Derek Walcott, Stuart Hall, and Édouard Glissant within a wider geographical and theoretical context. The exhibition features work by contemporary artists who address issues of migration and displacement from both a historical and contemporary perspective.The stories and histories relate to a timeframe that begins with the transatlantic slave trade and continues until today. If the exhibition were visualised on a map, the works could be understood in relation to an expansive sea, the ebb and flow of which is never-ending, and cyclical, where the currents move back and forth between countries and continents, through time and history, from past to present. The routes on the map would extend from West Africa to the Caribbean, from the Caribbean to the UK and the United States, between Asia and the Caribbean, and back again. As such, the overlapping and entangled histories of the exhibition are connected to an ongoing discourse that is fluid, open-ended, and unresolved. At a time when forced migration is affecting the lives of an ever-increasing number of individuals worldwide, the question is how contemporary artists can effectively and sensitively address the topic of displacement in ways that contribute to increased awareness, tolerance, and understanding. The artists featured in The Sea is History succeed in conveying a complex and nuanced picture of migration and displacement. Derek Walcott’s poems, and Stuart Hall’s and Édouard Glissant’s contribution to cultural theory all provide valuable insight into the works featured in the exhibition and the topics addressed by the participating artists. Curated by Selene Wendt for The Museum of Cultural History, Oslo, Norway. Participating artists: John Akomfrah, Andrea Chung, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Christopher Cozier, Manthia Diawara, Isaac Julien, Naiza Khan, Hew Locke, Nyugen E. Smith, and Cosmo Whyte. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Skira, with essays by Manthia Diawara, Annie Paul, and Selene Wendt, as well as an essay and a selection of poems by Ishion Hutchinson. Poems by Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kei Miller, Christian Campbell, and Nyugen E. Smith are also featured.

A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife

The exhibition title is inspired by a poem by Tsering Woeser, whose ongoing struggle against oppression and violence has been a source of inspiration for activists throughout the world. Her description of what is presumably an ordinary paper-cut suggests that almost anything can suddenly become a weapon—inexplicably and without warning. Her poem resonates as an apt metaphor for the proximity and threat of violence worldwide. The entangled histories of violence and oppression conveyed in this exhibition convey a deeply unsettling collective narrative of social injustice. Although the primary focus is on violence and oppression in contemporary society, the brutal weight of history looms heavily throughout. The stories that unfold reveal striking similarities between forms of violence regardless of location. Recurring themes include gender violence and the prevalence of violence against women and children in particular; censorship and surveillance; the exotification of the black female body, and shared histories of war, military rule, and political oppression. The featured works also shed light on the social circumstances that lead to violence and oppression in the first place. Curated by Selene Wendt for The Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam. Participating artists: Regina José Galindo, David Goldblatt, FX Harsono, Amar Kanwar, Naiza Khan, Teresa Margolles, Cildo Meireles, Zanele Muholi, Oscar Muñoz, and Newsha Tavakolian.

Orhan Pamuk: The Art of Fiction

The Art of Fiction offered a unique journey through Orhan Pamuk’s literature, with The Museum of Innocence as the focal point. Orhan Pamuk’s critically acclaimed novel The Museum of Innocence is both a classic love story and an ode to Istanbul. On its most basic level The Museum of Innocence is the story of Kemal who falls so deeply in love with Füsun that he becomes obsessed with collecting objects that remind him of the time they spent together before fate would tear them apart—not only once but twice. These objects are spun into a nostalgic and sentimental story that also paints a vivid picture of Istanbul from the 1970s to the early 2000s. As viewers, we are invited to consider the symbolism of real objects that relate to a fiction. As readers, we are confronted with reality through intermittent references to Orhan Pamuk and the museum that he would later create to house the objects that Kemal collects. This playful balance between fiction and reality—so typical of Orhan Pamuk’s literary style—teases our understanding of both. Neither a book about a museum, nor a museum about a book, these are two sides of the same story; one told through words, the other expressed through objects. As such, an epic tale of love, an ode to Istanbul, and an unprecedented work of art come together to reveal the full potential of the relationship between words and images, literature and art. The exhibition featured twenty-nine replicas of vitrines from The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul. Inside each vitrine is a selection of carefully composed objects that reference specific chapters in the novel The Museum of Innocence. It is worth mentioning the strong link between Orhan Pamuk’s vitrines and Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes as Pamuk’s vitrines are based on many of the same principles: ready-mades, found objects, assemblage, the relationship between objects, and surrealism. The vitrines were complemented by historical film footage, family photographs, a sound component, and an interactive video presentation of Orhan Pamuk’s notebooks filled with texts and watercolors. The Art of Fiction also featured twelve original accordion notebooks filled with words and images, which have never been presented or published previously. These served to emphasize the importance of Orhan Pamuk’s role as a visual artist. In fact, he dreamed of becoming an artist until the age of twenty-three when “a screw fell loose” and he decided to become an author. Although Pamuk went on to become an award winning author the artist inside him never died. In its entirety the exhibition demonstrates that literature and art are of equal importance to Orhan Pamuk. The exhibition was curated by Selene Wendt, in collaboration with The Museum of Innocence, for The Museum of Cultural History, Oslo, where it was on view May 22 - October 15, 2017. The exhibition was accompanied by an audioguide, and a fully illustrated book with texts by Orhan Pamuk, Bernt Brendemoen, and Selene Wendt. With generous support from The Foundation for Free Speech (Fritt Ord), The Norwegian Cultural Council, The City of Oslo (Kulturetaten), Films from the South, and Bergesenstiftelsen.

The Art of Storytelling / A arte de contar histórias

The Art of Storytelling was inspired by Latin American literature and its distinct tradition of storytelling, and featured work by contemporary artists whose work is directly inspired by poetry and literature. Authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, João Guimarães Rosa, Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have all had a tremendous influence on the development of literature and poetry both in their own countries and internationally. Latin American literature has also been a valuable source of inspiration not only for readers and other authors, but also for artists. This was the source of inspiration for a comprehensive exhibition that featured contemporary artists whose work is directly inspired by literature and poetry. The Art of Storytelling was curated by Selene Wendt specifically for MAC Niterói, with special focus on Brazilian artists. The exhibition included a very important community aspect that involved a collaboration with the artist/writers collective Dulcinéia Catadora. We developed a book project and series of workshops created to engage youth from the local community in the outcome of the catalog in the months leading up to the exhibition, using art and literature as tools to create a positive impact on their lives. Participating artists: Gilvan Barreto, Dulcinéia Catadora, Marilá Dardot, Magne Furuholmen, Lobato & Guimarães, William Kentridge, Cristina Lucas, Fabio Morais, Ernesto Neto, Ulf Nilsen, André Parente, Rodrigo Petrella, Rosana Ricalde, Eder Santos, Elida Tessler, Sergio Bernardes/Guilherme Vaz, and Nina Yuen. Follow the link to see the film about the Dulcineia Catadora book project for The Art of Storytelling: