All state agencies in Germany agree on the “substantial return” of the valuable Benin bronzes cultural assets to Nigeria. State Minister of Culture Monika Grütters (CDU) also said that a coordinated stance on the German side is important “in order to reach the understanding we are seeking with the Nigerian side.” The Minister of State for International Cultural Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, Michelle Müntefering, wants to resume the talks in Nigeria as early as next week.
In April, Grütters, the directors of the German museums holding such pieces in their collections and their Nigerian partners presented a concrete road map detailing that a first shipment of art treasures is to be returned as early as next year to Nigeria, in whose southwest lay the former kingdom of Benin.
Hermann Parzinger, the director of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Germany’s largest cultural institution, will lead the return talks with the Nigerian authorities.
In 1897, British colonial troops looted 3,500 to 4,000 bronzes from the royal palace in Benin City and set the city on fire.
About 1,100 bronzes were purchased in Germany, 440 of them in Berlin alone, which made it the second largest collection in the world.
The museums bought the artworks at auctions, so their possession is legal — but not legitimate, because they were acquired as a result of colonial violence in the first place.
For years, restitution faced such opposition, but now there’s been a real change of heart also among museums, said Nanette Snoep, director of Cologne’s Rautenstrach-Joest Museum (RJM). “Museums and politicians have become aware that there is a real need to decolonize museums. And decolonization also means restitution,” she told DW.
Snoep, who was part of the team that met with Grütters in April, curated the exhibition ‘‘Resist! The Art of Resistance’’ at the Rautenstrach-Joest Museum, a “tribute to the women, men and children who resisted colonization and whose stories were rarely told or heard,” as the museum’s website puts it.
The Dutch-born artist has worked intensively with art from colonial contexts and has long advocated initiating restitution. “I was pleasantly surprised that we were unanimous in our support for restitution and the steps necessary to achieve it,” Snoep said. (DW)