Saturday, May 22, 2021

Germany To Return Nigerian Bronzes

William Faulkner wrote that "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." Much of the world today is the result of crimes committed and decisions made by people decades, even centuries ago.
Human nature being what it is, people who have benefitted from certain past actions are often, good natured or not, biased towards not making any changes to rectify misdeeds while those who have been harmed by theft or worse crimes see no reason why the descendants of robbers should continue to live off ill gotten booty. 
There is an entire legal, financial, and diplomatic industry which exists to return various forms of property, particularly art, that was stolen, expropriated, or "bought" from Jews by non-Jews during the years of German Nazi hegemony, WW2, and the Holocaust. I use quotes around bought because of course sell or die isn't really a true free market transaction. 
Art museums, some wealthy private art collectors, corporations, and Nazi descendants have not all been immediately willing to turn over such property to Jewish institutions, claimed heirs, or the state of Israel. There have been disputes. 
The Nazis were in power for twelve years. Depending on when you start the clock European nations have been invading and colonizing African and Asian nations for about three hundred to four hundred years. 
During that process European merchants, politicians, priests, middlemen, art collectors or soldiers stole many African art pieces and religious artifacts. Today some of this art is in private hands. Some of it is owned by European museums. 
And now that more African/Asian nations are independent and increasing their political and economic power, they are demanding the return of what was stolen. At least one German museum is heeding that call.

British troops looted thousands of artworks known as the Benin Bronzes from the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria, in 1897. Following auctions, some of the bronzes ended up in museums and private collections across Europe. 

They hold deep cultural significance, and there is growing international pressure to give them back. Berlin's Ethnologisches Museum holds more than 500 artefacts from the Kingdom of Benin, most of them bronzes.

"We want to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen during colonisation," German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said on Thursday, adding that the first returns were expected to take place in 2022.

Scotland's University of Aberdeen said last month it would repatriate a Benin bronze whose acquisition in 1957 at an auction it called "extremely immoral".

Last year, France approved the restitution of its collection of pillaged Benin Bronzes. Hundreds of pieces are still held in the British Museum and several museums in the United States. More than 900 of these artefacts are housed in the British Museum, which has come under increasing pressure to return them in the wake of last year's Black Lives Matter protests

I don't think those nations will ever be made whole.  Too much was stolen. But it is a step forward to recognize that people who aren't white created items of value which were stolen and should be returned.
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