Two Oba's, heads of Benin kings on exhibition. Image: OpenLearn from The Open University (Youtube)
On 29 April, the Benin Dialogue Group, made up of German political and cultural leaders, reached an agreement to return the Benin bronzes to Nigeria by 2022. The group wants to develop a road map for the return, which should be completed in the upcoming months. The bronze African artefacts will finally return home after British soldiers looted them in 1897.
The Benin Dialogue Group stated their intent to return “human remains and cultural objects from colonial contexts to their countries and societies of origin”, a press release read. Germany’s decision to hand back the looted artefacts might invite others to start restitution talks as well, the Benin Dialogue Group hoped.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the agreement a turning point in the country’s approach to colonial history. It aims to support Nigerian museums and partners after the Bronzes have returned home, according to the news platform Deutsche Welle. Maas explained this could include archaeological cooperations or the training of museum managers and assistance with cultural infrastructure.
Dutch anthropologist and curator at the Rautenstrach-Joest-Museum in Cologne, Nanette Snoep, underlined the importance of restitution in the trend to “decolonise” museums.
Nigerian partners can decide by themselves how this restitution will take place
However, Snoep emphasised that decisions on restitution need to be taken by the Nigerian partners themselves. Whether all the bronzes return to Africa or “if some of the looted art will remain in German museums, it must be their decision how we will represent the Benin artworks in our museums”, Snoep told Deutsche Welle.
If other countries or museums will follow the German example, remains to be seen. You can read up here on the debate and learn more about the history of the looted Benin bronzes. You can also watch DW’s video below on whether Germany’s decision will start a new era for looted art.