Dutch Are Taking Giant Steps Towards Restitution Of Looted Artefacts
‘One of the noblest incarnations of a people’s genius is its cultural heritage, built up over the centuries by the work of its architects, sculptors, painters, engravers, goldsmiths and all the creators of forms, who have contrived to give tangible expression to the many-sided beauty and uniqueness of that genius.
The vicissitudes of history have nevertheless robbed many peoples of a priceless portion of this inheritance in which their enduring identity finds its embodiment.
The peoples who were victims of this plunder, sometimes for hundreds of years, have not only been despoiled of irreplaceable masterpieces but also robbed of a memory which would doubtless have helped them to greater self-knowledge and would certainly have enabled others to understand them better.
The men and women of these countries have the right to recover these cultural assets which are part of their being’.
A.-M. M’Bow, former Director-General, UNESCO, Paris. (1)
The Dutch will be taking giant steps towards genuine restitution of colonial looted artefacts if the recent report of a committee of experts and scholars, chaired by Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, Report of the Advisory Committee on the National Policy Framework for Colonial Collections were to be accepted by the Minister for Culture and translated into law. The committee was established at the request of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven. (2)
Acknowledging the brutality and the injustice of the colonial system, the report recommends that the Netherlands returns unconditionally cultural objects looted from former Dutch colonies:
‘From the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Netherlands had trading posts and colonies in Asia, Africa and the Americas. For more than four centuries, the Dutch were present in many places on these continents as traders, settlers, and occupiers. The period was characterized by exploitation, violence, racism and oppression of the original population. It was also a time when many cultural, historical, and religious objects from these areas came to the Netherlands which can still be seen in Dutch museums to this day.
These include cultural goods that at the time came into Dutch hands against the wishes of the owners, for example, through theft or through military action.’ (3)
Thousands of cultural objects were brought to the Netherlands, mostly against the will of the owners, which can be seen in Dutch museums. Netherlands must assume responsibility for the colonial past by making the recognition of this injustice and redress of the injustice the main principle of its policy on the colonial collections. The Netherlands must also consult with the former Dutch colonies to avoid any neo-colonial approaches.
The Gonçalves Committee also recommended the creation of independent Advisory Committee to advise the minister on requests for return of colonial heritage
Requests for return of cultural objects that were not looted, or which originated from countries that were not Dutch colonies are to be accepted if they are of special cultural, historical, or religious interest to the country of origin. Unlike requests from former Dutch colonies, such requests will not be granted unconditionally. The independent Advisory Committee will assess the reasonableness and fairness of such requests and weigh the interests involved. The committee also recommended the creation of a Centre for Expertise on the Provenance of Colonial Objects and the establishment of a publicly accessible database of colonial collections in Dutch museums.
We are encouraged to realize that the recommendations of the Gonçalves Committee correspond in many ways to suggestions we made after examining the new rules on restitution of colonial artefacts that Dutch museums introduced 2019.(4) We are particularly pleased that the committee from the outset recognized and acknowledged the inherent brutal, violent and oppressive nature of colonial rule and drew the conclusion that objects taken without the consent of the owners should be unconditionally restituted. This is a giant step. It is the inability or unwillingness of many Western museums to recognize the brutal and violent nature of colonialism that complicates their approaches to restitution and leads them to solutions that are clearly inadequate, such as proposals to lend looted objects to those from whom they were looted in the first place. Another idea from this failure to recognize colonialism for what it was, is the idea to sell looted objects and use proceeds, for inter alia, encouraging young black artists in America.
We are surprised however, that the committee, after stressing the unjust nature of the colonial system, establishes a different treatment for objects from former Dutch colonies and for objects from non-former Dutch colonies. Colonial rule, whether Belgian, British, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish, was brutal, violent and an imposition on those who were subjected to such regimes. Looting of cultural artefacts was practised by all colonialists and therefore any project that sets about to do justice must treat all demands on equal basis and not base any decision on consideration of the nationality of the oppressors. Oppressed colonial peoples did not have a choice in the nationality of their oppressors. Recent French and German provisions on restitution do not make such a distinction. (5)
Studying the report, I had a few concerns in mind. How will future examinations of demands for restitution consider requests from countries such as Ghana, former Dutch Gold Coast. Will the committee consider Ghana only as a former British colony and disregard the Dutch occupation, albeit only of parts of the Gold Coast, from 1598 -1872? Many areas of the Gold Coast were occupied at different periods by various European powers. Portuguese were the first who named the territory, Costa de Ouro, Gold Coast, a name which later powers retained because of the seemingly abundant gold in the area. The Lusitanian intruders built in 1482 Elmina Castle, O castelo São Jorge da Mina. Germans, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes, occupied parts of Ghana. Are these periods to be discounted and attention concentrated on the last occupation by the British even though artefacts have been looted throughout the colonial period? Fortunately, the excellent Dutch report has a list of Dutch colonies that includes Ghana, Nederlandse Goudkust
The golden pipe of King Kwaku Dua, of Asante, reproduced in the report, is said to have been given in 1837 as a gift by the Asante king Kwaku Dua to the Dutch king William I. Asantehene Kwaku Dua is said to have signed an agreement with Dutch Major-General Verveer that allowed the Dutch to recruit in Asante for a fee thousand men annually for the East Indian Army. The golden pipe was said to be a way of thanking the Dutch for this agreement.
It is possible that a proud Asante king made a gift to a European king whom he would have regarded as his equal. Asante kings were not overly submissive to European kings and hence many battles with, for example, British invaders. Whether there was or not a genuine gift will depend on the available evidence, bearing in mind that because of the nature of colonial regimes, their inherent structural violence, most gifts from Africans to Europeans were not really voluntary. Any colonial administrator worth his salt could easily persuade an African to part with an artefact, especially when he is informed that the gift was to the great king whose strong army is in the colony and whose representative would receive the gift on behalf of the mighty king. However, we should add that Kwaku Dua sent his son Kwasi Boakye and his nephew, a potential heir to the Asante throne, Kwamena Poku, to the Netherlands in order to give them Western education. The king must have had confidence in the Dutch and maintained friendly relations with them. (6)
We must comment on the recommendation that requests for restitution of objects from non-former Dutch colonies must be accompanied by evidence or proof that the object is more appropriately kept in the requesting land than in Holland on religious or cultural ground.
After having kept an object for more than hundred years, the Dutch should not ask the deprived State or persons for evidence relating thereto. We must also remember that colonialists have generally taken away to Europe any information or archive relating to looted objects. Indeed, many Africans may not even be aware of the existence of the object in question. We consider the question regarding an undoubtedly African artefact as perverse. An African cannot know the importance of a looted artefact to the European holders who have kept it for a century apart from the fact that many an African cannot assess cultural life in a country he does not know and for which he may not even obtain a visa. The requirement also demonstrates a residual unwillingness on the part of the European country to relinquish control over an object it has held for a hundred years. This requirement must be eliminated from the recommendations when they are transformed into legislation or at least the burden of proof must be put on the Dutch museum to establish that it will be best to keep the object in Holland.
The Dutch would do well to avoid expressing in the new law any concerns about where restituted objects would be kept and whether they would be accessible to a wider public and whether the demanding State has qualified persons to look after the objects. Such concerns derive from the European belief that they have a duty, perhaps a God-given obligation, to supervise what Africans do with their resources, including their cultural artefacts. As we have often stated, a thief who steals my Mercedes-Benz has no right to dictate the conditions for the return of the stolen object. He cannot state that the vehicle would be returned on condition that I build a garage according to his specifications and employ a driver who has qualifications he stipulates.
The Dutch recommendations are in the same spirit as those made by the Sarr-Savoy report, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics on the need to return artefacts taken without the consent of their owners. The French Senate has finally approved recently legislation authorizing the restitution of 26 looted artefacts to Benin and a sword and scabbard to Senegal. The law narrowly defines the items to be restituted in derogation from the rule against inalienability in French law. We can expect return of the artefacts in 2021-22. This is no doubt a small step in the right direction buy it is also an insult in view of the thousands of Benin, and Senegalese artefacts that remain in French museums. We have learnt in the meanwhile that between the date of such an approval and actual date of implementation, a long period may elapse. (7)
In response to Macron’s Ouagadougou Declaration to return African artefacts taken without consent, the German Museums Association launched its guidelines on handling objects acquired in colonial context, Leitfaden zum Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten (Guidelines for dealing with artefacts acquired from colonial contexts). Within a year the guidelines were revised and subsequently on 13 March 2019 culture ministers of the German States(Länder) drew up principles that should facilitate restitution. (8) All the various attempts by the German authorities to present a more progressive approach to restitution are unfortunately overshadowed by the determination of the Humboldt Forum to open with looted artefacts and their putting a golden cross on the new cultural institution. It does not look as if Germans are ready to part soon with the looted artefacts in the new $750m cultural institution that is considered the biggest and most expensive German project.
The Dutch, French and German seem to have recognized the need to make some progress in the matter of restitution of looted African artefacts. But what about, the British and other European States that also hold looted artefacts from former colonies?
The British who have long experience in the nefarious practice of looting cultural artefacts of defeated peoples, have not changed their basic position that they are the legal owners of objects they stole. When a meeting of the Benin Dialogue Group was held in Lagos in 2013, the British Museum did not attend on the pretext of logistic difficulties in getting to Lagos from London. The title of the meeting indicated it was on restitution of the Benin artefacts. (9) When the British finally attended subsequent meetings of that group that includes many European museums, such as Dutch and German museums, they persuaded the group that the furthest concession that should be made to the Benin and Nigerian delegations requesting restitution of the famous Benin artefacts they stole in 1897, would be short-term loans. The British kept many of the looted artefacts and sold the rest to other Europeans and Americans.
When we reported the decision to delete restitution from the agenda of the Benin Dialogue Group, a member of the Group made a vicious attack on us even though he agreed with our view that it was surprising and wrong to remove restitution from the agenda of a group the rest of the world thought was primarily working on restitution of Benin artefacts. (10)
Recent pressures from the Black Lives Matter and other groups demanding restitution from Western museums have prompted British institutions such as the British Museum which is the largest depot of looted artefacts in the world and the Victoria and Albert Museum to adopt a more accommodating and reconciliatory attitude and language but nothing has changed in substance. (11)
The Victoria and Albert Museum that holds a large part of Ethiopian treasures looted by the British Army in 1868 after their defeat of Emperor Tewodros II has announced it is in discussion with the Ethiopian authorities about loans of the artefacts to Ethiopia, an offer rejected by the proud African peoples. (12)
Subsequent to the initiatives of France, Germany and the Netherlands, the Arts Council of England (ACE) has given out a contract out for the preparation of new guidelines for English museums regarding colonial artefacts. The report is supposed to be issued this autumn but even before it has been finished , those preparing the report have announced that their findings would not affect the standing British government position regarding restitution of looted colonial artefacts. (13) A seldom attitude.
In Belgium, the discussions on restitution of looted African artefacts were so intense that the king refused to attend the re-opening of the renovated museum built by the cruel, sadistic King Leopold II at Tervuren, now called Africa Museum. (14) The Swiss are beginning to raise questions about the presence of so many African artefacts and have started discussing the decolonization of their museums.(15)
A consequence of the unwillingness or inability of Western museums to restitute looted African artefacts is the growing impatience of many , especially the youth and discussions on developing other ways and means to secure these treasures. Most Africans believe there have been enough discussions and talks on restitution since Independence. A symptom of this impatience is the activities of the energetic and determined Congolese pan-African activist, Mwazulu Diyabanza, who attempted to remove African artefacts in the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, from the Musée du Louvre, Paris, from Musée des Arts Africains, Océaniens, Améridiens, Marseille. Diyabanza also made a similar attempt in the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, Netherlands. (16)
Diyabanza, always elegantly dressed, cool and gentle, is clearly no thief. He turns his attempts into media performances which, with the help of his associates, are fully reported on his homepage and other media. He is non-violent and clearly declares his intention of wanting to return to Africa the artefacts that the Western nations have looted. His declarations, in general, correspond to claims made by many Africans and accepted by mainstream academics. So far Diyabanza has had to face trial in Paris and been fined with his associates.
Obviously, we cannot recommend the way chosen by Diyabanza to rescue African artefacts from European museums. So far, his exploits have not resulted in any violence from the Western authorities but there is no guarantee that the situation will always remain so. Besides, how often would one have to invade Western museums to rescue the thousands of African artefacts that are in Western captivity? But there is no gainsaying that his activities have brought to the attention of the wider public the plight of African artefacts. It has also added to the pressures on Western museums to act finally instead of talking. One does not need to have the foresight of a prophet to foresee that Diyabanza’s dramatic performances may be replicated in future by others. This will add more pressure on Western museums which will soon be faced with many more demands for restitution from African countries as they reorganize their museum structures.
According to a press release issued on 29 October 2020, Ghana has recently set up a Presidential Committee on Museums and Monuments that will advise the government on a new radical direction for Ghana’s museums and cultural heritage institutions. The committee will submit its report in 2020. (17)
The issue of restitution of African artefacts is not new. Those who write and talk as if our demands for restitution started only in 2017 after the famous Ouagadougou Declaration of the French President Macron that African artefacts should be seen not only in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou or that the ground-breaking Sarr-Savoy report was the beginning of our demands or discussions, should read a little more. They would learn that at the time of African Independence in 1960, this matter was raised and also discussed at the time of the preparation of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. Bernie Grant, a British MP of Caribbean descent had also been urging the British Parliament and British museums to return Benin artefacts. (18) A great-grandson of Oba Ovonramwen, the Oba in whose reign the Benin artefacts were looted, had even gone to present Benin’s demands before the British Parliament in 2000 but to no avail. Some even continued, decades thereafter saying that there has been no demands for restitution. (19) Interest in restitution was again revived in 2007 by the famous exhibition Benin Kings and Rituals- Courts Arts from Nigeria, curated by Barbara Plankensteiner, that started in Vienna and went to Paris, Berlin, and Chicago. Many African scholars such as Peju Layiwola, University of Lagos, Folarin Shyllon, University of Ife, Sylvester Ogbechie, University of California, and Kwame Opoku, an independent scholar, as well as others started writing on this issue long before Macron’s famous Ouagadougou Declaration. (20)
It is therefore not right to believe African restitution demands started only recently. One should not give the impression that Western museums have not had enough time to consider these demands or that Africans have until recently not made any demands or written about a topic dear to most of us and that Europeans have from their own goodwill started to discuss restitution.
Our contemporary Westerners are in many ways worse than their predecessors who in previous centuries, imbued with their own racist superiority, felt they could treat Africans and their resources anyway they liked. They do not seem to recognize the sense of direction of history which since 1945 has been to restore and enlarge the freedom of peoples enslaved and colonized by European powers.
Our contemporary Westerners in their majority condemn colonialism and appear to abjure racism. Yet they want to keep objects looted during the colonial period even though looted artefacts are clearly linked to colonialism, slavery, and racism. It is interesting to note that even some of those who proclaim they are for restitution, also state that restitution of African artefacts should be done on case by case. When Europeans were stealing our artefacts, they did not do so case by case. In Benin, for example, the British looters of 1897 took more than 3500 Benin artefacts in one attack, the Punitive Expedition. But now, for restitution, some are saying one should proceed object by object, hence the popular statement of Europeans that there should be no wholesale restitution. How long will it take to return the thousands of looted African artefacts in Europe?
Whenever the question of restitution comes up, Westerners raise issues such as whether Africans have adequate facilities for the objects, whether they have qualified personnel to look after the restituted objects. The comments often point to the inabilities of the Africans. What Europeans do not ask is whether the numbers of objects looted can be returned, whether some of them have been lost, damaged, sold or otherwise disposed of on the free European market for art. They definitely do not ask whether these objects kept for a century may contain some diseases or some dangerous substances. The terrible conditions of some of the cellars of European museums are well-known. (21)
The real damage of this racist approach is that some Africans, educated as they are, have absorbed these European prejudices that put them apart from the majority of their own peoples. Thus, some accept the idea of loans of their own looted objects, an idea that the average African cannot accept or understand. It seems that what slavery and colonialism could not do, Independence seems on the route to achieve: create nations of beggars and borrowers. We are begging and borrowing everywhere despite our enormous natural resources. We even borrow African artefacts from Europeans who stole them.
Much time has been lost in engaging us in useless arguments such as underline the bogus and discredited Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums, signed in 2002 by 18 major museums, not including British Museum but instigated by the museum in Bloomsbury. It contains major arguments of the imperialist museums and ideas propagated by Neil MacGregor, James Cuno and Phillipe de Montebello who sought to disarm us from making demands for restitution whilst justifying the detention of looted artefacts by Western museums. Many Westerners still use arguments propagated by the discredited declaration even if they do not explicitly refer to it. (22)
Should the Dutch transform the recent recommendations into law, the other European States might be encouraged to restitute some of the thousands of looted African artefacts they do not need and are lying in their depots, often in the original packages they were sent from Africa.
Africa and Europe, geographical neighbours, are bound to co-operate but this should be on basis of equality and mutual respect. When Europe hijacks African cultural artefacts and expects Africans to still co-operate with the former colonial powers, it is being patently unjust.
’African art, like any great art, some would say, in any case more than any other, and for a long time if not always, is first of all in man, in the emotion of man transmitted to objects by man and his society.
This is the reason why one cannot separate the problem of the fate of African art from the fate of the African man, that is to say the fate of Africa itself.”
Aimé Césaire, Discours sur l’art africain,1966. (23)
1. A. M. M’Bow, A Plea for the Return of an Irreplaceable Cultural Heritage to Those Who Created It, p.70, Lyndel V. Prott (ed.) Witnesses to History, A Compendium of Documents and Writings on the Return of Cultural Objects, UNESCO Publishing 2009.M'Bow: A plea for the return of an irreplaceable cultural heritage to ...
[PDF] A Plea for the Return of an Irreplaceable Cultural Heritage to those ...
2. Report of the Advisory Committee on the National Policy Framework for Colonial Collections-https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/rapporten/2020/10/07/koloniale-collecties-en-erkenning-van-onrecht
4. We stated in our comments as follows:
So, what would we expect from a policy that is positive, clear and serious about restitution?
1. An honest and sincere recognition of the racist and oppressive nature of the colonial system that resulted in the seizure of land, deprivation of property, imposition of taxation without representation, residential and employment discrimination and loss of lives of the colonial peoples. Their human remains should be returned without further delay.
2. A clear and unequivocal political statement indicating commitment from the head of State or government, minister of foreign affairs or minister of culture that is an expression of a decision of the authority with power to dispose of State property such as looted artefacts.
6. Those interested in the relations of the Gold Coast (Ghana) and the Netherlands would find useful information in Michel R. Doortmont and Jinna Smit, Sources for the Mutual History of Ghana and the Netherlands, Brill, Leiden Boston, 2007. My good friend, the late Albert van Danzig, produced several important studies on the relationship between Gold Coast and the Netherlands, including Forts and Castles of Ghana, Accra 1980. Van Dantzig underscores the importance of the castles in Ghana:
‘Tradeposts, fortified or not, have been built in various parts of the world, but nowhere in such great numbers along such a relatively short stretch of coast. At various places, such as Accra, Komenda and Sekondi, forts were actually built within gun-range of each other` Within three centuries more than sixty castles ,forts and lodges were built along a stretch of coast less than 300 miles (500km)long Many of these buildings are, still in existence at present, and if some of them could be regarded as important individual monuments, the whole chain of buildings could be seen as a collective historical monument unique in the world: the ancient ‘shopping street’ of West Africa.’ Introduction.
See also, Kwesi J. Anquandah, Castles and Forts of Ghana,
Ghana Museums and Monuments Board,1999.
The two Asante princes sent to Holland are the subject of the novel by Arthur Japin, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi,(1997)See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Hearts_of_Kwasi_Boachi
7. The Sarr-Savoy report, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics, recommended restitution in 2018 the restitution of looted African artefacts.
8. K. Opoku, Brief comments on German Guidelines on handling objects acquired in colonial contexts
K. Opoku, Revised Guidelines on Colonial Collections: Germany Not Advanced with Restitution of Looted African Artefacts https://www.modernghana.com/news/947508/revised-guidelines-on-colonial-collections-german.html
9. K. Opoku, “Benin Plan of Action for restitution: Will this ensure the Return of Looted Benin Artefacts?
See the excellent book, Henrietta Lidichi and Stuart Allan, Dividing the Spoils: Perspectives on military collections and the British empire, Manchester University Press, 2020
10. K. Opoku, Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution of Benin Artefacts from its Agenda
K. Opoku, UK Rejection of Restitution of Artefacts: Confirmation or Surprise? https://www.modernghana.com/news/934736/uk-rejection-of-restitution-of-artefacts-confirma.html
11. K .Opoku, British Museum Supports Aims and Objectives of Black Lives Matter? The Height of Hypocrisy!
12. ‘V&A in talks over returning looted Ethiopian treasures in 'decolonisation' purge’
K. Opoku, To Decolonize Is to Decontextualize, Tristram Hunt. Should We Stop Asking for Restitution of Our Looted Artefacts ?
3. K. Opoku, Even English Institutions Are Discussing Restitution: Effects of Sarr-Savoy Report?
The Art Newspaper states: The Art Newspaper understands that the guidance, produced in association with the University of Leicester, does not signify a change in government policy and that restitution should still be considered on a case by case basis’.
14. K. Opoku, Will Belgium Hear the Call For Restitution of Looted African https://www.modernghana.com/news/898611/will-belgium-hear-the-call-for-restitution-o
The Committee is to investigate new radical ways of presenting narratives, as well as engaging communities from across social divides in Ghana so that they might see themselves properly represented in their museums The Committee will also advise on research of Ghanaian objects held in international museums and collections. We expect the Committee to recommend the restitution of Ghanaian objects such as are at present at the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as in Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and other Western museums. The committee will not settle for loans of the precious artefacts stolen by the British in 1875 and other periods. After the recommendations of the French Sarr-Savoy report and those of the recent Gonçalves report to the Dutch Minister of Culture, it would be strange if the Ghanaian committee recommended any other solutions such as loans of looted Ghanaian artefacts.
18. K. Opoku, Will Western Museums Tell the True Histories of Their Acquisitions? -International Museum Day 2017
Bernie Grant and the quest to return ceremonial objects to Nigeria: Was the Stone of Destiny Pandora’s box?
19. Appendix 21.
The Case of Benin-Memorandum submitted by Prince Edun Akenzua
20. Peju Layiwola, Benin 1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question,
Wy Art Edition, 2010,
Sylvester Ogbechie, “Give Me What Is Mine (Apologies Burning Spear),”
Ordering the Universe:Documenta11 and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze,” Art Journal, Art Journal 64(1):80-89,April 2005. Sylvester Ogbechie and Josette Bailey, How to bring Africa’s artifacts back home from Europe’s museums
Momentum Builds for the Restitution of African ArtMay 2019
Current history (New York, N.Y.: 1941) 118(808):194-196
F. Shyllon, The Recovery of Cultural Objects by African States through the UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions and the Role of Arbitration
‘Unravelling History: Return of African Cultural Objects Repatriated and Looted In Colonial Times’ in, J. A. Nafziger and A. M. Nicgorski (eds.) Cultural Heritage Issues: The Legacy of Conquest, Brill | Nijhoff, 2010.
K. Opoku, Is the Stealing of Cultural Objects of Others A Specific Cultural Heritage of Europe or Is It A Universal Heritage?
21. Jörg Häntzschel, Verseucht, zerfressen, überflutet
Are African Artifacts Safer in Europe? Museum Conditions Revive Debate https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/arts/design/germany-museum-condition-artifacts.html
22. Readers should note that the British Museum was not among the initial 18 museums that signed the Declaration. On the homepage of the British Museum, we read:
‘The British Museum Press Office
The Universal Museum
Eighteen of the world’s great museums and galleries have signed a statement supporting the idea of the universal museum. The statement was drafted at their last meeting in Munich last October, and presented to the British Museum for publication.
Their directors are all members of an informal group of museums worldwide which meets regularly to discuss issues of common interest.
One of the most pressing of these is the threat to the integrity of universal collections posed by demands for the restitution of objects to their countries of origin.
Museums and galleries such as these are cultural achievements in their own right. They bring together the different cultural traditions of humanity under one roof. Through their special exhibitions and their permanent displays they endow the great individual pieces in their collections with a worldwide contact within which their full significance is graspable as nowhere else.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, said’ This declaration is an unprecedented statement of common value and purpose issued by directors of some of the world’s leading museums and galleries. The diminishing of collections such as these would be a great loss to the world’s cultural heritage.’
The British Museum was not a party to this Declaration although the venerable museum instigated it. The museum wanted to use such a statement in its disputes with Greece over the Parthenon Marbles. Obviously, it looks better if the British Museum were not a party otherwise it would look like issuing one’s self a testimonial of good conduct. See Lyndel v. Prott, Witness to History ,A Compendium of Documents and Writings on the Return of Cultural Objects, UNESCO Publication,2009.p.118.
See also, James Cuno, Who owns antiquity? Museums and the Battle over our ancient Heritage ,Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 204, note 35:
‘’ The British Museum was not among the eighteen signatories to the declaration. Its director, Neil MacGregor nevertheless issued a statement, which was posted on the museum’s Web site as a kind of preface to the declaration. MacGregors statement reads: ‘This declaration is an unprecedented statement of common value and purpose issued by directors of some of the world’s leading museums and galleries. The diminishing of collections such as these would be a great loss to the world’s cultural heritage.’(See www thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/newsroom/current2003/universalmuseums.html for both the declaration and MacGregor’s statement’’.
The statement of MacGregor is no longer on the website of the British Museum. Was it removed once the museum decided it wants to be party to the declaration? By which method, formal or informal did British Museum became party to the declaration that did not provide for future adhesion?
K. Opoku, Is the Declaration on the Value and Importance of the “universal Museums” Now Worthless? Comments on Imperialist ,museology
K. Opoku, Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project
K. Opoku, Defence of “ Universal Museums ” Through Omissions and Irrelevancies
23. L’art africain comme tout grand art, me dira-t-on, en tout cas plus que tout autre, et depuis si longtemps si ce n’est depuis toujours, est d’abord dans l’homme, dans l’émotion de l’homme transmise aux choses par l’homme et sa société.
C’est la raison pour laquelle on ne peut séparer le problème du sort de l’art africain du problème du sort de l’homme africain, c’est-à-dire en définitive du sort de l’Afrique elle-même »
in Annick Thebia-Melsan, Aimé Césaire : Pour regarder le siècle en face, (2000, Maisonneuve & Larose, p. 25). The above extract has been taken from a brilliant statement Aimé Césaire wrote in response to André Malraux who had given a statement on African art at the opening of the “Colloque sur l’art dans la vie du people,” Dakar, 30 March-7 April 1966. (Translations from the French are by K. Opoku.)
A golden pipe said to have been given as a gift by the Asantehene Kwaku Dua to the Dutch King Williams I in 1837, now in The Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (NMVW No.RV-360-5211)
Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria now in Volkenkunde Museum, Leiden, Netherlands.
Reliquary figure, Kota, Gabon, Berg en Dal, Netherland.
Asante gold ring, Ghana, now in Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, Netherlands.
Relief Plaque, Oba Esigie, Benin, Nigeria, now at Tropenmuseum ,Amsterdam, Netherlands
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