Appropriations - Nick Axel, Sammy Baloji, Silvia Franceschini, Nikolaus Hirsch, and Estelle Lecaille - Editorial


Nick Axel, Sammy Baloji, Silvia Franceschini, Nikolaus Hirsch, and Estelle Lecaille

ayoh kré Duchâtelet, Ornaments and Crimes, 2023.

May 2023

Appropriations is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and CIVA Brussels within the context of its exhibition “Style Congo: Heritage & Heresy,” featuring contributions by Germane Barnes, Sandrine Colard, Johan Lagae and Paoletta Holst, I.I.I. Osayimwese, Debora Silverman, Rolando Vázquez and Sammy Baloji, and Françoise Verges.

Rubber. Cobalt. Uranium. Gold. Silver. Ivory. Wood. Palm. Gum. Wax. Oil. Hide. Silk. Skin. Cotton. Indigo. Tobacco. Sugar. Cinnamon. Cardamom. Cloves. Nutmeg. Mace. Opium. Coffee. Cocoa. Tea. Peanut. Pepper. Colonialism plundered. It looted. It extracted. It exploited. It starved. It mutilated. It killed. Colonialism’s violence was not limited to the natural worlds, but extended deep into the cultural, social, spiritual, ritualistic, and artistic domains of those who inhabited them. Statues. Figures. Screens. Columns. Doors. Lintels. Chairs. Tombs. Coffins. Combs. Costumes. Textiles. Necklaces. Rings. Masks. Headdresses. Drums. Horns. Flutes. Vessels. Boats. Paintings. Plates. Swords. Steles. Songs.

According to Rolando Vázquez, it was the extraction of these and other invaluable “aesthetic resources” that predicated the western development of modernism in the arts.1 Indeed, it is not difficult to find canonical examples of modern art and architecture—from Art Nouveau (AKA “Style Congo”) to Picasso and Le Corbusier—that appropriated the styles, forms, and materials of colonized people—ripping them out of their contexts that gave them meaning and reducing them to an image of the new. For colonialism was never, and cannot simply be reduced to the economic, to the material. Racist ideologies of white civilizational supremacy fueled and fed off the colonial project, which in turn wrote the books, painted the paintings, designed the monuments, and built the cities.

Decolonization, then, cannot be limited to questions or acts of repatriation, restitution, reparation. While each of these processes are essential in healing the wounds and addressing the historical injustices enacted by colonization, decolonization requires reckoning with how the west—its places, its ideas, its cultures, its selves—remains a colonial construct. The protest, defacing, and at times removal of monuments in public space around the world has been a meaningful step in this regard. But what about the buildings that colonialism built? What about the aesthetic experiences they are designed to instill—of beauty, of wonder, of fear, of pride? What about the language we have to understand the past and present, and to imagine the future? There is still much work to be done. But necessary for creating a more just, a more equitable, a more inclusive future is to realize that it was perhaps the colonizers who colonization colonized the most.


Rolando Vázquez, Vistas of Modernity: Decolonial Aesthesis and the End of the Contemporary (Amsterdam: Mondriaan Fund, 2020).

Appropriations is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and CIVA Brussels within the context of its exhibition “Style Congo: Heritage & Heresy.”

Architecture, Colonialism & Imperialism
Africa, Postcolonialism, Postcolonial Theory, Decolonization
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