Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge (BEYONDREST)

Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge (BEYONDREST)

On the backdrop of ongoing debates to decolonialize museums, Beyond Restitution asks if the return of looted art can be regarded as a closure of historical wounds. The project probes the focus on restitution that inadvertently casts dispossessed art in terms of contested property. Instead, it explores what kind of loss dispossessed art engenders, and how this loss has shaped the knowledge production on heritage. It focuses on the interlocution between Western Europe, the Near and Middle East, and North Africa, mapping relationships between people and “things” that have largely been left out of current debates. The project starts in the mid-19th century, which witnessed the rise of the museum in its modern form as well as violence unleashed by imperial and colonial projects and dispossession. Innumerable objects made their way into international collections, categorized mostly as “Islamic art,” or as the “universal heritage of humankind” that nonetheless symbolically and proprietarily belongs to the “West.” Taking restitution not as an endpoint but as the point of departure for its inquiry, Beyond Restitution tackles dispossession not as a loss to be mended but a means to transform knowledge through inquiries into absence. The interdisciplinary research group is employing a wide methodologically matrix, including ethnographic interviews, visual analysis of exhibitions, archival research, and examinations of the laws governing cultural assets to capture the proprietary stakes in the interplay of epistemic remembering and forgetting. The research also extends to contemporary artistic approaches to dispossessed heritage as alternate paths of knowledge making in a field that has to contend with impasses that arise when centering on what is absent rather than what is present, on what is lost, rather than found. Beyond Restitution argues that the dispossession of art is not merely a problematic of colonialism or empire, that is of the past, but an ongoing process that is constitutive for the governance of heritage in its national and transnational formations. Indeed, it is a precondition for the ways in which art and other “cultural assets” circulate.

This five-year project is funded by the European Union (European Research Council (ERC), Project No. 101045661), hosted by the Forum Transregionale Studien (Forum), and related to EUME. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.




Banu Karaca

Principal Investigator
+49 (0)30 89001 426
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Çiçek İlengiz

Postdoctoral Researcher
+49 (0)30 89001 441
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Lamia Moghnieh

Ethics Advisor
University of Copenhagen
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Jessica Metz

Project Coordinator
+49 (0)30 89001 427


Loes Hendriks

Student Assistant
+49 (0)30 89001 427


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BEYONDREST Publications

Blog Series Beyond Guidelines: The Question of Ethics in Transregional Research and Knowledge Production


Conversation Series "Restitution and its Vantage Points: Beyond the Preservation Paradigm"

25 Jan 2024, 6 pm | Elyse Semerdjian (Clark University): Bone Memories: The Armenian Genocide and the Radical Possibility of Solidarity, Chair: Veronika Zablotsky (Freie Universität Berlin), Café Arakil, Berlin.

14 Dec 2023, 5 pm | Regina F. Bendix (Universität Göttingen): Cardboard Boxes: The (In)Visivility of Human Remains and their Mobilizing Potential, Chair: Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST), Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin.

25 Oct 2023, 5 pm | Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST): Inheriting Anatolia: Representation, Knowledge Production and Imagination, Chair: Filiz Tütüncü Çağlar (EUME Fellow 2020-24 / Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin), Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. The event is also part of the EUME Berliner Seminar winter term 2023/24.  

18 Oct 2023, 5 pm | Pascale Ghazaleh (American University in Cairo): Archives, Heritage and Discontent: Who Owns Egypt's Past?, Chair: Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST), Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. The event is also part of the EUME Berliner Seminar winter term 2023/24.

For more details on the conversation series, click on "read more".

Conversation Series "Restitution and its Vantage Points: Beyond the Preservation Paradigm"

The ongoing debates around decolonizing the museum have not only taken on dominant regimes of representation but have also increasingly interrogated the material basis of the museum.  The ways in which collections have been accumulated and subsequently mobilized in the knowledge production on cultural heritage are under ever more scrutiny, and rightly so. The struggles for the restitution of artworks and historical objects have been pivotal in these developments, and, perhaps for the first time, in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter Movement/Movement for Black Lives have been able to galvanize broader publics in favor of acts of return. While some high profile restitutions from European institutions have been celebrated in the realm of diplomacy, the larger political conditions and legal frameworks within which current acts of return are conducted are still in need of critical examination. At the same time the idea of the universal or encyclopedic museum continues to retain its power, be it in national or international politics. It does so by trying to recuperate the language of decolonization and of “diversity” in ways that seem to indicate a shift from the paradigm of “preserving the past” to one of “preserving the museum” itself. Indeed, we are witnessing the simultaneous  acceleration of restitution demands and of the integration of the terminology of decolonization into European cultural policies, in ways that stabilize both geopolitical power relations as well as the institution of the museum in its modern form.

Taking restitution as a vantage point, the BEYONDREST event series examines not only this shift but explores how restitution holds the potential to transform the very ways of producing knowledge on cultural heritage and art, both inside and outside the museum. Interrogating how the “preservation paradigm” is mobilized in different scholarly, political, and social practices surrounding cultural heritage, the invited speakers offer conceptual contemplations on dispossession and inheritance as well as the ways in which conceptions of ownership and property shape those of cultural heritage and of provenance. In different formats and drawing on neighboring disciplines, the event series proposes new readings  of the laws and legal provisions that are supposed to protect and preserve cultural heritage. The guest lectures, panels, and screenings  offer inquiries into how ongoing restitution debates are currently shaping the fields that contribute to the knowledge production on cultural heritage, such as archeology, art history, history, anthropology, cultural studies, critical theory, and museum studies. They also examines how restitution debates are mobilized in national contexts and authoritarian fields. We hope to open up space for discussing the limitations and possibilities that archival research offers in efforts to transform knowledge production. Together, we aim to explore and imagine different ways of knowledge-making in the complex of cultural heritage from perspectives that are committed to decolonization.


28 Jun 2023 | BEYONDREST Workshop Beyond Guidelines: The Question of Ethics in Transregional Research and Knowledge Production, Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. Program (PDF)



09 Feb 2024 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): "A Strange Kind of Property: Art, Cultural Heritage, and Paradoxes of Protection", part of the conference Paradoxien des Schützens: 18. Tagung der Isa Lohmann-Siems Stiftung (09-10 February 2024, Hamburg, Germany / online).


21 Dec 2023 | Panel "Mülkiyet ve Müşterekler: Türkiye’de Mülkiyetin İnşası, İcrası ve İhlali" [Property and the Commons: The Construction, Realization, and Violation of Property in Turkey] with Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST), Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi, Istanbul, Turkey.

18 Nov 2023 | Panel "Resitution and its Vantage Points: Critically Examining the Transition from ‘Preserving the Past’ to ‘Preserving the Museum’", organized by Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST), speakers: Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST), Chiara De Cesari (University of Amsterdam), Regina Bendix (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) , Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST), Maysam Taher (New York University), part of the 2023 AAA/CASCA Annula Meeting Transitions (15-19 Novemver 2023, Toronto, Canada), online.

5 Nov 2023 | Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST): "Making the Immovable Movable: The Pergamon Altar’s Journey to Berlin", part of the panel A Moveable Past? Social Uses of the Ottoman Past in the Post-Ottoman World at the MESA 2023 Annual Meeting (2-5 November 2023), Montréal, Canada. 

20 Oct 2023 | Panel "Back to Provincialism?" with Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST), part of the conference Humanities and Social Sciences in Times of Crises: Back to Provincialism?, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Leibniz-Saal), Berlin. [cancelled]

21-23 Sep 2023 | Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST): "Grieving Publicly in the Cityscape of Dersim: A Dialogue between Three Statues", part of the panel "An Affective Genealogy of the Turkish Republic in Its Centennial" of the Fourth European Convention on Turkic, Ottoman and Turkish Studies (Turkologentag 2023), University of Vienna.

12 Jul 2023 | Goat on the Mountain, Moon in the Sky, Fish in the Water: Talk with rezzan gümgüm (artist), Zeynep Kezer (Newcastle University), Barış Yıldırım (lawyer) and Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST), Depo Istanbul.

07 July 2023 | Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST): "Healing by the Magical Landscape: The Sacred Place of Yeşil Evliya", part of the Workshop The Supernatural, Healing and Mental Health in Contemporary Middle East, Universität Bamberg (7-8 July 2023).

13 Jun 2023 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): The National Frame: Art and State Violence in Turkey and Germany, part of the Colloquium of the Institut für Ethnologie und Kulturwissenschaft, Universität Bremen.

25 May 2023 | Goat on the Mountain, Moon in the Sky, Fish in the Water: Talk with rezzan gümgüm (artist), Dilşa Deniz (Harvard University), Ahmet Kerim Gültekin (Freie Universität Berlin) and Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST), Depo Istanbul.

02 May 2023 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): Violent Possessions: Cultural Heritage and the Politics of Knowledge, with responses by Antowan Byrd, Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, Philipp Hohmann and Ruslana Lichtzier, Northwestern University.

20 Apr 2023 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): Book Talk "The National Frame: Art and State Violence in Turkey and Germany", Stanford Humanities Center.

11 Apr 2023 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): "Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge", Stanford Humanities Center.

03 Apr 2023 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): "The National Frame: Art and State Violence in Turkey and Germany", with responses from Aslı Iğsız and Andreas Huyssen, part of the Cultural Memory University Seminar, Columbia University.

14 Feb 2023 | Çiçek İlengiz (BEYONDREST): When Memory Is Not in Competition: Open-Ended Remembering in Turkish Kurdistan, part of the PRISMA UKRAÏNA Teatime Conversations (online).

tba | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): "From Multiculturalism to Diversity: The Continued Seductiveness of Orientalism and its Discourses", part of the Workshop Istanbul on Display: Dis:connections in the Globalisation of Contemporary Art from Turkey (Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, Munich / online).



26 Oct 2022 | Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST): Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge, part of the EUME Berliner Seminar (online).

11 Jul 2022 | Book presentation "Islam and Heritage in Europe: Pasts, Presents and Future Possibilities", followed by a roundtable discussion with Banu Karaca (PI BEYONDREST), part of the Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik / CARMAH Colloquium series (Berlin/online).