Ghanaian Filmmaker Nii Kwate Owoo’s 1970 Documentary on Africa’s Pillaged Artifacts Reintroduced

#Ghana: Produced long before the campaign for the repatriation of stolen African arts gained widespread attention, Ghanaian filmmaker Nii Kwate Owoo’s 1970 documentary YOU HIDE ME, shed light on the hidden treasures of African art looted by the British during colonial times.

The 50-year-old film reveals the extensive collection of Asante artifacts and Benin bronzes that were tucked away in the basements of European and American museums.

Despite initial challenges, including securing permission from British museum authorities and navigating tight security, Owoo’s documentary captures the essence of centuries of cultural pillage across Africa.

The film premiered at the Africa Center in London but faced distribution challenges.

Recent interest in the documentary surged amid the global Black Lives Matter movement, leading to its inclusion in prestigious film festivals, including the 2020 BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia, PA (USA) and the Paris, France Short Film Festival, where it won the Best Short Documentary category.

Information brochure for the film ‘You Hide Me’, Nii Kwate Owoo, 1970, Philadelphia Filmmakers Workshop.

In 2021, YOU HIDE ME was screened during the Cinema RESIST! film series on postcolonial cinema at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, Germany.

There Owoo participated in a conversation about the production and distribution of the film, its significance in the 1970s, and its relevance today, 50+ years later.

A summary of what he said during the 15-minute conversation:

“In the late 1960s, shortly after graduating from the London Film School, I found myself fueled by a deep passion for history and art nurtured since my days in Ghana. Eager to explore, I visited the British Museum.

As I wandered through its African exhibition hall, I was struck by the vast array of artifacts behind locked glass doors, representing just a fraction of the museum’s extensive collection.

Inspired by what I saw, I resolved to document these treasures. To my surprise, the museum authorities responded positively to my request to film, paving the way for a remarkable journey.

Armed with a borrowed editing suite and a small crew, I embarked on a one-day filming expedition, navigating the museum’s labyrinthine basement filled with security officers and countless artifacts.

The resulting documentary premiered at the Africa Center in London, drawing attention to the plight of stolen African artifacts and the need for their repatriation.

Information brochure for the film ‘You Hide Me’, Nii Kwate Owoo, 1970, Philadelphia Filmmakers Workshop.

However, due to the limitations of distributing celluloid films at the time, its impact remained largely confined until recent years.

In 2020, amidst the global reckoning spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement, interest in the film surged.

Its inclusion in the BlackStar Film Festival caught the attention of organizers from the Paris Short Film Festival, leading to an unexpected victory in the Best Short Documentary category.

This newfound recognition has reignited discussions around the restitution of stolen African artifacts, culminating in collaborations with UNESCO and the formation of AFRITEAM, an organization advocating for their repatriation.

As we commemorate fifty years since the film’s creation, it serves as a potent reminder of the enduring legacy of colonialism and the ongoing struggle for justice in the realm of cultural heritage.”

According to a February 6, 2024 report from Ghanaian publication Modern Ghana, speaking with journalists, Owoo revealed that efforts are now underway to translate the film into various Ghanaian languages, ensuring broader accessibility and fostering a deeper understanding of the colonial-era theft of African creativity.

The film is not online at this time, or available to stream. But one hopes that will change soon.

Here’s a rough peek:

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