Germany will introduce a “substantial” number of prized artifacts known as Benin bronze from its museums back to Nigeria next year, its Ministry of Culture Said on thursday night.
The artifacts, which the British Army looted in 1897 in Benin City, now Nigeria, are scattered around the world from museums and private collections. The German declaration comes first by a national government with a timetable attached, as momentum is increasing on both sides of the Atlantic to return stolen goods.
An online meeting of government officials, regional legislators and museum administrators reached an agreement That German institutions – which own hundreds of bronze – will negotiate with Nigerian partners and try to make first returns next year.
“We are facing a historical and moral responsibility to bring to light Germany’s colonial past and to come to terms with it,” Germany’s Culture Minister Monica Gratters said in a news release. “Dealing with the Benin Bronze is a touchstone,” he said.
Bronze (which, despite the name, includes items made of ivory, brass, and wood) will likely be housed in the planned Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which Architect David Adjaye Is designing on behalf of Legacy Restoration Trust – A group representing the government of Nigeria, regional authorities and the Royal Court of Benin.
The trust hopes to open the museum in 2025, although the timeline has already been pushed back several times.
A trustee, Victor Ehikmenor, welcomed the German declaration. “If it works, it will create a blueprint for others,” he said in a telephone interview.
Germany will publish a list of all Benin Bronzes in its museums by June 15, according to one Declaration Signed at Thursday’s meeting. A description of the authenticity of the items in which they were looted will be made available by the end of the year. However, it has been announced that Germany expects some bronze to remain in the country.
Ehikmenor said he had no problem with the items on display in Germany, until his legal ownership in Benin City was transferred to the museum. “We want to have a global dialogue, but it has to be a fair one,” said Ahikamenor. “We can no longer live in the colonial hierarchy.”
In Britain, whose army conducted raids in 1897, steps are being taken to return the bronze by the institutions that keep them, rather than by the government. In March, the Hornman Museum in London, which owns 49 items from Benin City, Published a policy document It said it would consider the “potential return” of any item in its collection that was taken by force or theft. Days later, Aberdeen University in Scotland Said it would come back An Oba, or ruler, of the stolen Benin Empire in the 1897 raid.
Yet some of the country’s largest museums – such as the British Museum, which owns more than 900 items, some of which are also the best – are regulated by Parliament and do not permanently return items from their collections without changes in the law Can. Britain’s Ministry of Culture did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The British Museum is a member of the Benin Dialogue Group, a network of European museums that has been meeting with Nigerian representatives for more than a decade on what to do about bronze. The group is helping develop the Edo Museum of West African Art, and finances and staffs archaeological work at the museum site to begin this fall.
Ehikmenor compared the participation of the British Museum in the McDonald’s activist’s reinstatement talks, which it refuses to make burgers. “Their presence has not been able to communicate like other museums in Europe,” he said. But he said he hoped things would change with the German announcement. “If Germany is finding ways to have this conversation with us, then I think the British should find a way,” he said.
A British museum spokesman acknowledged in a statement that the bronze was taken under the circumstances of “mayhem and plunder” and said that it was “explained in the gallery panel and on the museum’s website.”
While museums in Europe have discussed with Nigeria for years, American institutions have recently begun to process bronze in their collections. Marla C., director of the University of the Museum. Burns said the Fowler Museum, part of the University of California, has contacted Nigerian authorities about the future of 18 Benin Bronzes.
The Smithsonian has formed a working group to develop a policy around colonial and plundered art in its collection, said Christine Kramer, deputy director of the National Museum of African Art. She said there are 42 Benin Bronzes in her museum – though not all of them were looted – and there are others in other Smithsonian museums, such as the National Museum of Natural History, she said. The group’s first meeting is next week, Creamer said.
“American museums have been a little slow to move forward on this,” Kramer said, because of their lack of colonialism. “The time is beyond perfect now,” he said.
The Metropolitan Museum, which has some 160 items in Benin City, including A. Famous ivory maskHas not made any announcement regarding the reinstatement. A spokesman said in a statement on Thursday, “Those works were largely given to the institution in the 1970s and 1990s, which were found in the art market.”
Ehikmenor said that the Met was “dancing around these objects,” like the British Museum. But, he said, “the time for American institutions will come.”
Philip Ihenacho, a financier who is leading the campaign to raise funds for the Edo Museum of West African Art, said in a telephone interview that the new desire of some governments and museums, which calls for the return of Benji Bronze, to the game Was a changer. “With the impetus behind some of the discussions, we feel more and more confident that the challenge is no longer going to persuade people to return the items.”
“The challenge,” he said, “is how an institution is being built that is worthy of acquiring goods.”
Christopher F. Shuetze Contributed to reporting.