THE intangible phenomenon of tangible cultures will be under spotlight at the International Conference of African Cultures (ICAC) 2021 that commences today with President Emmerson Mnangagwa expected to officiate at the event set for National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) in Harare.

A panel of both local and international speakers drawn from across Africa will take turns to make presentations at the conference to be held in hybrid format.

The conference ends on Thursday.

The conference, to be live-streamed on all social media platforms, will run concurrently with an exhibition on some objects and artefacts that need repatriation.

While the conference will be held under the theme Africa Speaks: Confronting Restitution and Repatriation of Artefacts, Human Remains, Objects and Archives from African Countries, the exhibitions will run under the theme Looking Back and Looking Towards the Future: Celebrating Africa in Africa.

In an interview with NewsDay Life & Style last week, NGZ executive director Raphael Chikukwa said Africa had been deprived of its heritage both financially, academically and artistically.

“It is in the Gallery’s thinking that there is a need to create this platform on African soil. This debate should not remain in the West for this is to do with our heritage that includes archives, human remains and objects,” Chikukwa said.

“We should not pretend as cultural practitioners that it is business as usual. The point we are here to stress is we must confront this repatriation and restitution issue from our own perspective. The issue of our human remains, objects and archives is not a laughing matter, and we should ask ourselves why they want to keep our heritage.”

He said the conference, in its third version, would curate African voices on the United Nations Cultural Declarations in line with Vision 2030, according to national sovereignties and global laws.

“In line with the NDS 1 [National Development Strategy 1] and the government’s mantra of re-engagement, we feel it’s important to host another ICAC and not to have a one-off event. Through ICAC, Zimbabwe is going to be a pan-African hub for critical discussions for the Africa we want,” he said.

Chikukwa added that the conference would provide an opportunity to produce a position paper that could contribute to the African Union repatriation workshop and the aspirations of the continent.

“As National Gallery of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe at large, we think that the need to celebrate Africa in Africa is long overdue. The time is now and our voices matter when it comes to heritage, human remains and archives,” he said.

“The idea of having your own heritage benefiting others is unfair and it must be corrected. It is our hope that having our heritage will see the need to heal the colonial scars that the colonised people have and continue to suffer

Director in the Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation ministry, Biggie Samwanda, said the focus of discussion at the conference would be in line with NDS1 and inclusivity.

“Zimbabwe is taking seriously the government’s mantra on engagement and re-engagement. As a ministry, we are also working to make sure that ICAC is a success. The conference will also address the important aspects surrounding the intangible phenomenon of tangible cultures and objects,” he said.

The conference will be attended by 34 delegates from Zimbabwe and the African continent.