Dr Sarah Van Beurden

Alumni Postdoc Fellow

Research Project at the Centre

Postcolonial Cultures of Cooperation: Belgium, Congo and the Rise of an International Conservation Regime

This project proposes the exploration of the history of postcolonial cooperation and aid, using the case study of cultural cooperation between Belgium and its former colony Congo (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly also known as Zaire), specifically their collaboration in the creation of an Institute for National Museums in the Congo. An important catalyst for this cultural cooperation was the emergence of an ‘international conservation regime,’ headed by UNESCO, which provided regulations for the protection and restitution of cultural property. This project will place the Belgian-Congolese cooperation in the context of demands for the restitution of museum collections composed of Congolese art objects made by Congo during the process of decolonization. These demands are an important indicator of the opposing interpretations both parties held of the cultural cooperation that followed. How are we to interpret this postcolonial case of cultural cooperation?  Can we read it as a neocolonial form of cultural guardianship on the part of Belgium, an example of the impact of the rise of an UNESCO-led international legal regime, or as the result of the effective cultural politics of the Zairian Mobutu regime?


July – December 2013