A Gallery with no Pictures: The ‘Ghost Collection’ of the Ivory Coast

What does it mean to lose the art that defines us and how should we respond? The ‘Ghost Collection’ in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, shows the reaction of students after a local museum was ransacked in 2011. Students replaced 120 pieces of stolen art with their own sculptures. Each piece contained a megaphone, mixing sound with visual art.


In 2011, 120 artworks were stolen from the Museum of Civilisation in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This robbery occurred during the post-election crisis as Laurent Gbagbo’s election was contested worldwide. The stolen goods amounted to an estimated worth of 6 to 8.5 million dollars. Damage to the building was also costly, as was the need for increased security. The art has not been found. It is suspected that the sculptures have been melted down to gold, sold on to other markets, or displayed in private collections. Similar historical examples of stolen art indicate that they are unlikely to be located.   


Many people have reacted to the loss of Abidjan art in a similar way. Locals feel a distinct sense of having lost their cultural heritage and national identity. The community feels robbed of something that cannot be regained. It is not only objects that have gone missing, but a historical sense of belonging and understanding.

Sympathy for the loss of the art has been widespread. Subsequent art has been concerned with finding a unique focus. Many artists reconstitute objects traditionally disregarded by other nations, such as glass bottles. Workers at the museum have continued to talk about the lost objects. This strong oral culture in Africa provides the inspiration for the ‘Ghost Collection’.


The ‘Ghost Collection’ replaces the stolen art with alternative works. This project was led by Raphaël Tiberghie from the visual arts departments of Grand Paris Sud. Pieces of art were created by students from Evry, France, from the Technical centre for Applied Arts in Bingerville and the University of Felix-Houpoiet-Boigny. These sculptures are attached to loudspeakers designed to tell the story of the missing objects through sound.

This gallery demonstrates that creativity can stem from difficult circumstances. Moreover, the ‘Ghost collection’ provides evidence that art is far more than just an aesthetic object for us to appreciate. Art, in its fullest form, has a narrative, a context, a creator, and an engaged audience.



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