The 100 Most Influential People of 2021
Sarr: Basso Cannarsa—Agence Opale/Alamy; Savoy: Maria Sturm
By David Adjaye
September 15, 2021 7:19 AM EDT

Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy have made a critical contribution to the journey of restitution. Their much discussed “Sarr-Savoy Report,” commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron and published in 2018, stands as a testament to the fight against colonial legacies of violence. In addition to its urgent message on the need to restitute African and Asian artworks to their countries of origin, the report provides a framework to guide the emergence of new institutions and spaces that decenter the power dynamic and objectification created by the West.

As an architect, much of my work is focused on creating these spaces—New Institutions that can decenter the West and return to knowledge systems that were thriving before the colonial project. Felwine and Bénédicte created a theoretical basis for that work, a radical call for understanding how restitution can become a tool for restoring lost memories, and from that new constructs can emerge and become new teaching tools within society.

Now, countries like France and Germany and museums including Berlin’s Humboldt Forum are pioneering the process and working with African governments to craft plans to return art and other artifacts. It is thanks, in part, to the work of Felwine and Bénédicte and others who see these changes as essential.

Adjaye is an architect

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