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European Museums Considering What To Do With Art Collections Stolen From Africa

By Parker Diakite

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In the Black Panther film, there were a few heartfelt moments from the villain Killmonger, played by actor Michael B. Jordan.  One of those moments was when the audience was introduced to him as a black visitor to a fictional British museum.

He confronts the white museum curator about African artifacts in the museum by asking, “How do you think your ancestors got these? You think they paid a fair price? Or did they take—like they took everything else?”

That moment in the film started a conversation about the amount of African art in collections around the world. But for others,  it ripped off the band-aid and reopened a wound.

For decades, Benin and Congolese leaders have asked French and German authorities to return the African artifacts stolen during colonial-rule.  Most of their requests were denied with some exceptions, like human remains.

Yet, some strides were made.

In 2006, France’s Quai Branly museum lent a set of wooden statues and carved furniture to the country of Benin that was seized by the French military in 1892, according to NPR.

But many question “How can you lend something that’s not yours, to begin with?”

Most recently, officials in Germany and The Netherlands have announced plans to return art and artifacts taken from Africa during the colonial period:  a topic that more museum staff across Europe are discussing.

In addition to Germany, last year French President Emmanuel Macron commissioned a study of how much African art French museums are holding and to make recommendations about what to do with it.

Approximately 90 to 95% of sub-Saharan cultural artifacts are housed outside Africa across Europe and in North America, as reported in NPR.  

The study recommended the return of a wide range of objects taken during the colonial period by force — or where there’s simply no documentation of consent.

As of now, the wooden objects from Benin are back at the Quai Branly. With a loan from the French Development Agency, Benin is constructing a new museum to receive them, set to open in 2021, according to NPR.

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