December 1, 2023

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Decolonization is underway in European museums

Decolonization is underway in European museums

December 2022. A German plane lands on the tarmac in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. On board, a priceless cargo: twenty bronzes looted from Benin during a punitive raid by British troops in 1897, Germany was then preparing to return to Nigeria. The symbolic act dedicates the July 2022 restoration of 1,100 Benin City bronzes to German collections.

A month ago, the Horniman Museum in London organized a ceremony to transfer ownership of 72 objects to Nigeria. That same year, in February, while Benin celebrated with great fanfare the return of 26 objects from the Abomey treasure returned to France, Belgium sent a digital inventory of 85,000 objects to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for analysis. Federal collections were a prelude to the passage of a federal restructuring law last July.

An irrepressible movement is now shaking Europe. “What seemed to be an impossible task has become possible”The French historian Bénédicte of Savoy delights in salutations “The End of Colonial Denial”. France gave “la”. In November 2017, at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Emmanuel Macron expressed this desire. “Within five years, the conditions for the temporary or permanent restoration of African heritage in Africa will be met”. A report published the following year by Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr called for massive reparations. Not so easy. National collections are indivisible, and the resistance of curators is considerable.

“A real little revolution”

Six years after the Ougadougou speech, the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, announced in January that she would submit a proposal for a law to restore Western cultural property as early as 2024, inspired by the recommendations of the report by the former president of the Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez, published on April 27. On the same day, about fifty directors of European and African museums signed the “Tucker Declaration”, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the two continents. Contrary to the alarmists who thought museums were becoming empty, the reflexive movement allowed for a rapprochement between European and African curators.El Hadji Malik Ndiaye, director of the Theodore-Monot Museum in Dakar, welcomes. People look out for each other, respond to each other, work together, a real little revolution! »

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