Amat Levine: Pressure is building to return stolen artifacts

The sculptures are found in museums and private collections around the world. It is detailed, and is made of bronze, copper, ivory, and wood and represents animals, things, and people, often associated with regal emblems.

Most of them are outside the country in which they were created; the so-called Benin bronzes were produced in the Kingdom of Benin from the 14th to the 19th centuries, and were originally used in ceremonies, as wall decorations and as parts of altars. The historical empire is not to be confused with the modern nation of the same name, but was a region in what is today Nigeria.

The kingdom’s control over the palm oil and rubber trade put the country on a gathering path against Britain, which in 1897 sent an invading force to the capital, Benin City. The city was completely burned and during the widespread looting of thousands of objects of historical, religious and artistic interest, including bronze pieces in Benin.

While the country was occupied The artifacts have spread around the world and are now in museums in Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as in private holdings. Here in Sweden, the Ethnographic Museum has a small collection in its possession. However, the British Museum, which contains nine hundred bronze objects from Benin, is the most remarkable.

Since Nigeria’s independence, the demands of return have been regular. In 1977, for example, the state requested that an ivory mask be reinstated, One of the most beautiful stolen items, to celebrate Festac ’77, the great African art and culture festival. The British Museum refused on the grounds that the mask was too fragile, while Nigerian media reported that the museum had demanded compensation of $ 3 million.

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Nigeria is not alone in recovering pre-colonial treasures from the Western world which responded by formulating creative arguments as to why they should be kept. Explanations included everything from home countries that weren’t able to take care of things in an adequate way to more people seeing them if they were staying in large cities like New York, London, and Berlin.

Traditionally, the debate has Whether the return is uncomfortable for American and European museums because it raises the natural consequential question of why the pieces were found in the Western world at all. This question cannot be answered without confronting the atrocities committed in the name of colonialism.

Under pressure, some Western museums have agreed to lend out the artifacts for a limited period, which, unsurprisingly, did not appeal to critics. Now, however, this may be about to change. In 2018, a French report estimated that More than 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is located outside of the continentAnd France recommended to return all unethically obtained items.

In the fall, the French National Assembly also voted to permanently return a small batch of things to its former African colonies. This year, Senegal will take back a 19th century sword, while 27 stolen items from Dahomey, today part of Benin, will also be returned.

Pessimists see this as one A way for France to win points in countries where China is gaining more and more influence. After all, these are only a fraction of the estimated 90,000 African monuments found in France. And the more optimistic see it as a sign of constant change.

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France is clearly not alone. The past two months University of Aberdeen, Scotland And the Humboldt Museum of Art Forum Berlin is also in I promised to return Benin Bronze. We are still far from a full return to the African cultural heritage and the debate revolves around rebalancing. But the decisions increased the pressure on museums that had so far been lukewarm in the face of the idea.

Read more Chronicles of Levine’s Mothers. For example, if Judgment against Derek Chauvin.

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