Wed, 22 Jun 2011 Feature Article

More Dogon In Musée Du Quai Branly, Paris Than In National Museum, Bamako?

Djenneke. Mali, now at Musée du quai Branly,  Paris, France.Djenneke. Mali, now at Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.

“Malian cultural heritage has for several decades, undergone a massive transfer toward Europe and the United States. Analyzing the phenomenon in its universality, it seems very clearly to be the translation of an unequal relation between poor (weak) and wealthy (powerful) nations. The cultural assets of poor nations are being exported to rich nations. Examples to the contrary do not exist”.

There is no doubt that the current exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly, entitled, “Dogon” is the most comprehensive and definitely one of the best exhibitions on the well-known culture of the Dogon, Mali. The exhibits are all so impressive that one cannot easily pick out any objects as more interesting and show them to readers, especially Africans who may not be able to visit this excellent exhibition in view of existing restrictions placed on Africans seeking to visit Europe. In any case, France would not accept as ground for requesting a visa for France, the current exhibitions on Dogon, Angola and Voodoo in Paris.

But how did the Musée du Quai Branly manage to assemble such a large number of impressive Dogon artworks? According to the catalogue of the exhibition, Dogon by Hélène Leloup, in addition to the Dogon objects held by the museum, several institutions and individuals also lent their artefacts.(2) The lenders are listed in the catalogue. It is interesting to note that some of them did not want to be mentioned by name. Did they want to avoid any possible claims of restitution by Mali from where the Dogon objects may have been illegally removed or acquired under suspicious or dubious circumstance? It is noticeable that not one African or Malian institution or individual person is mentioned in the list of lenders. There is only one African name among the contributors of articles in the catalogue. In the acknowledgements, no African name is mentioned. However, the editor, Hélène Leloup, extends a general thanks to the Dogon people who had revealed some secrets to her and expresses the hope that they will keep their country as quiet and beautiful as their ancestors created it:

“Merci â tous les Dogon qui m'ont confié quelques secrets. Qu'ils gardent ce pays, si tranquille et si beau, comme leurs ancêtres l'ont créé.”

How are we to understand this? Does the author really believe in what she is writing? She knows better than most of us the destruction of the Dogon area and the damage caused by the looting of artefacts, first under colonial rule and in the independence period by the intense looting of artefacts by impoverished Malian peasants which all end in Western countries. Does she really believe that the Dogon can keep their area as their forefathers left it? Looting under colonial rule and since Independence as well as other developments surely cannot be ignored, even by the anthropologists. The author knows very well that no country that has experienced colonialist aggression and imperialist domination can ever remain the same or preserve wholly its traditions. Does she not want Dogon society to make any progress? The wish expressed here reminds us of the old anthropologists.

In many ways Marcel Griaule and his team of anthropologists started the rush for Dogon artefacts which set in a train of activities that ensured that the Dogon way of life would undergo fundamental transformations. Polly Richards has written: “Ever since the studies in the 1930s of Marcel Griaule and his team. Dogon people have gained worldwide attention for their spectacular masking traditions. Seventy years on, with the annual exodus and return of young men to cities seeking work, with the influx of tourism, increasing desertification, and most significantly with the penetration of Christianity and Islam and developments in national politics, the Dogon region is somewhat altered.” (3)

Most readers are no doubt aware that the Musée du Quai Branly inherited from the Musée de l'Homme and the Musée National des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie. (which no longer exists) various African objects from the two institutions. These institutions were enriched by the artefacts which had been stolen/looted/extracted from the former French colonies during the nefarious Dakar-Djibouti expedition (1931-1934) as well as by other seizures under the colonial regime. The infamous expedition had been authorized by the French Government to collect all artefacts in the African territories it deemed necessary for studying the corresponding societies. The brutal methods used by the expedition have been described by one of its members, Michel Leiris in his famous book, L'Afrique Fantôme. (4) Extortion, stealing and intimidation appear to have been the most favoured methods of this group of eminent scholars. (5)

Since Independence, African countries have sought to recover some of their looted or extorted cultural artefacts but with little success. The Musée du Quai Branly seems determined not even to consider requests for restitution. Sally Price has quoted a Director of the museum, Germain Viatte as saying,

“France is both universalist and secular. We need to recognize that [museum collections] belong to the history of our own country, but also to cultures that may have disappeared, or be on the way out, or hoping for cultural revival. We need to take all this into account, but without giving in to a kind of paternalism, confining other people to their particularities and reserving universalism exclusively for ourselves because we're worried about being “politically correct”. We cannot give in to claims for restitution like those presented to the English for the Parthenon marbles or the Benin bronzes. But what we can do is set in motion international collaboration designed to find viable compromises between different, often incompatible interests, for example, between restitution and the protection of objects.” (6)

The unwillingness of the French even to consider restitution claims and other demands from Africans prompted Aminata Traoré, a former Minister of Culture from Mali, to issue her famous statement on the occasion of the opening of the Musée du Quai Branly: “In our opinion, the Musée du Quai Branly is built on a deep and painful paradox since almost the totality of the Africans, Amerindians, the Australian Aborigines whose talents and creativity are being celebrated, will never cross the doorstep of the museum in view of the so-called selective immigration. It is true that measures have been taken to ensure that we can consult the archives via Internet. Thus our works of art have a right of residence at a place where we are forbidden to stay”. (7)

Since Independence, Mali, like most African States, has been the object of intense plundering. (8) Most of the looted artefacts end up in the United States and the European States where there are profitable markets for African artworks. Mali has enacted legislation that imposes control on export of antiquities and archaeological objects, by making it obligatory to obtain export license from the National Museum in Bamako. Within the framework of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), Mali has signed an agreement with the United States by which the United States undertook to prohibit the import to its territory of listed items unless they are accompanied by documents certifying that the materials left Mali legally and are not in violation of Mali laws. It is worth noting that most of Mali artefacts that are outside the country seem to be in the United States.

Poverty and corruption in Mali have not made it made it easy to achieve full implementation of restrictions on export of artefacts. The African dealers who supply Western markets with Malian artefacts sometimes obtain export licence for one object and use the permit to export another. It has been accepted by most experts that so long as there exists in the West a lucrative market for Malian artefacts, so long will the African dealers and their assistants continue to loot and smuggle artefacts to the Western world.

The Dogon exhibition at Quai Branly will no doubt impress most visitors. The important issue is not whether the museum that inherited Malian and other African artefacts looted in the colonial regime and in the post independent period can organize a successful exhibition but whether Mali and the other African countries should continue to be deprived of their cultural property. Would the lenders of Mali objects to Musée du Quai Branly be willing to “lend” Malian artefacts to the Malian National Museum or shall we be faced with the standard arguments that these objects are too fragile to travel to Bamako or that the climate of Mali would have deleterious effects on the Malian artefacts now in Europe and United States of America? Would the museum that is willing and proud to lend African artefacts to museums in China be also ready to “lend” Malian objects to Mali? (9)

An aspect of the Dogon exhibition which I noticed is the determination to exhibit African artefacts in extremely dim light. It seems to be a common practice followed by the French in exhibitions on African art. We noted this tendency in the exhibition, Ode au Grand art africain. (10) The same practice is followed in two other exhibitions taking place in Paris at the same time as the Dogon exhibition, namely, Angola Figures de Pouvoir at the Musée Dapper and Vodun African Voodoo at the Fondation Cartier. (11) The Voodoo exhibition displays some of the African objects on the ground floor where daylight permeates the exhibition space. But the majority of the objects are shown in the basement, in semi obscurity. The effect of this dimness is that many of the notes displayed at the exhibitions are not easily legible. I have not found any reasonable explanation for displaying African art objects in semi-darkness in the Western world. Could it be that these exhibitions, usually organized by ethnologists or persons greatly influenced by anthropological writings want to reinforce the idea that Africa is a dark continent with mysterious ways of life and cultures? European visitors who visit these exhibitions could hardly avoid concluding that African culture and Africa represent darkness and obscurantism whilst Europe and European culture represent light and enlightenment. The moment the average visitor enters an African exhibition she is plunged into darkness; her senses are invaded and she is made to feel she is in an obscure world, at the mercy of unknown spirits and dangerous objects and creatures. Is that what the curators seek to achieve? Have these curators been following Hegel and the racist philosophers of the so-called European Enlightenment?

Paris may be a city of light but as far as exhibitions on African art are concerned, there seems to be a strong tendency to present darkness and mystery as essential elements of African culture. Instead of showing African art objects as they are in their social and cultural context, including the strong light in Africa, they are presented in semi- obscurity. The curators seem to appeal more to the fears and prejudices of the Western viewer instead of letting her trust her vision of beauty, excellence and craftsmanship. After more than 500 years of contact between Africa and Europe, some Westerners feel an imperative need to present Africa and African cultures as exotic and mysterious. We are yet to see a major European exhibition of a Western culture in Paris plunged into semi- darkness.

The Dogon exhibition goes from Paris (5 April-24 July 2011) to Bonn (14 October 2011-22 January 2012) but will not go to Bamako or any African capital. It seems to be assumed that Malians do not need to know more about Dogon art and other Africans do not need to know about Malian art. This way of ignoring the need and interest of Africans in major exhibitions on African culture is fairly widespread and has become the hall-mark of major exhibitions in New York, Paris, London, Berlin and elsewhere even though many of these exhibitions were organized with the help of Africans and African institutions. This was the case with the recent Benin exhibition, Benin-Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, and the Ife exhibition, Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa. Is there an assumption that Africans know about their own cultures and other African cultures? Nobody seems worried that resources about Dogon culture which are easily available to French children are not accessible to Malian school pupils? Have the French taken control of the narrative of Dogon culture similarly to the way Neil McGregor attempted to attribute to the British Museum the control over the narrative of Greek history?
Not Bamako, Lagos or Accra but Paris appears to be the place for viewing African art. Is anybody worried by this or do Africans not matter as far as concerns the acquisition of knowledge about African art and culture?

A short comparison of the catalogue of the exhibition, Dogon with the catalogue of the permanent exhibition of the National Museum of Mali shows immediately the imbalance in the relations of Mali with France. The Malian museum appears to have fewer Dogon artworks than the French museum. (12)

Considered against the colonial background of robbery and oppression which enabled the Dogon artefacts to be taken out of Mali, the logical question is when these objects will be returned to their country of origin as requested by UNESCO and the United Nations. Sculptures and other artefacts seized on the pretext of studying cultures and societies should have been returned at the latest at the time of Independence. Or are the French scholars and institutions that received the fruits of the Dakar-Djibouti Expedition (later on transferred to the Musée du quai Branly) still studying them after the seizures in 1931-34?

Those who are loud in declaring the need for protection of human rights do not seem to be in a hurry to recognize and protect the elementary human right to independent cultural development.

“All that I do has always interested me, but I nevertheless find the time too long and I can only be momentarily passionate about my work, inasmuch as the methods employed for the investigation resemble very much the interrogations of a magistrate rather than friendly conversations, and these methods of collecting artefacts are, nine out of ten, methods of forced purchase, not to say requisition..

All this casts a certain shadow over my life and I am only partially at peace with my conscience.

Many adventures like those relating to the seizures of kono, on the whole leave me no remorse since there is no other way to obtain such objects and sacrilege itself is a sufficiently grandiose element, inasmuch as current purchases leave me perplexed, for I have the impression that we are turning in a vicious circle: one pillages the artefacts of the Negroes on the pretext of teaching people to know and like them; that is to say, to train other ethnologists who will also like them and pillage their artefacts”. Michel Leiris (13)

Kwame Opoku, 19 June 2011.

1. Samuel Sidibé “The fight against the plundering of Malian Cultural Heritage and Illicit Exportation”, p.79, in Peter R. Schmidt and Roderick J. McIntosh (Eds.), Plundering Africa's Past, Indiana University, 1996

2. Hélène Leloup, Dogon, Somogy Editions d'Art, Musée du Quai Branly, 2011.

See Annex I for the list of lenders.
3. Polly Richards, “Masques Dogons in a Changing World,” African Arts. Volume XXXVIII, Number 4, Winter 2005, pp. 46-53.

4. Gallimard, 1953: Odile Tobner, “Vérité sur l'art des colonies”

« Ces ouvres d'art n'ont été ni reçues ni acquises honnêtement, elles ont été volées ou escroquées à leurs possesseurs impuissant ou trompés. Si on en veut un témoignage, entre mille, qu'on lise le récit de l'ethnologisation des Dogons par Marcel Griaule, fait par Michel Leiris » (Michel Leiris, L'Afrique Fantôme).

Philippe Baqué, Un nouvel or noir : pillage des œuvres d'art en Afrique, Paris - Méditerranée, 1999, Paris. An account of the methods used can also to be found in this excellent book by Philippe Baqué where he describes the methods used by ethnologists, art collectors and art dealers to secure cultural objects from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Objects which were too big or heavy were broken into pieces to facilitate transportation. Pressure was used on villages to sell religious objects which were not for sale at ridiculous prices dictated by the French.

Bernard Dupaigne, Le scandale des arts premiers - La véritable histoire du musée du quai Branly, Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2006. The author recounts the controversies surrounding the creation of the Musée du Quai Branly

5. K.Opoku, “ Benin to Quai Branly: A Museum for the Arts of the Others or for the Stolen Arts of the Others?”

6. Sally Price, Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac's Museum on the Quay Branly University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 124.

7. See Annex II
8. Samuel Sidibé, Peter R. Schmidt and Roderick J.McIntosh, op. cit. pp. 79-86;

Samuel Sidibé, "The Pillage of Archaeological Sites in Mali." African Arts. Autumn 1995.

Sidibé, Samuel. "Mali: When Farmers Become Curators." The UNESCO Courier . April 2001.

Joshua Hammer, “As demand for its antiquities soars, the West African country is losing its most prized artifacts to illegal sellers and smugglers”. http://www.smithsonianmag Kléna Sanogo, “The Looting of Cultural Material in Mali”,

Kléna Sanogo, « Quelques aspects de la lutte du Mali contre le pillage du patrimoine culturel », Grégory Compagnon, (Ed.), Halte au pillage, Editions Errance,Paris, 2019, pp. 409-426.

Claire Hilmer, SAFE ,”Say YES to Mali”

U.S. Department of State, International Cultural Property Protection web site

K. Opoku, “Let Others Loot for You: Looting of African Artefacts for Western Museums”,

See also Annex III below.
9. “Le musée du quai Branly s'associe au musée national de Chine”
10. K. Opoku, « Do African Sculptures ever die? Comments on the exhibition “Ode au grand art africain: Les statues meurent aussi » Paris.
11. “Vodun African Voodoo”. Fondation Cartier, Paris, 5 April -25 September, 2011.

12. Le Musée National du Mali; Catalogue de l'exposition permanente, Editions Snoeck, Gand, 2006. Copyright, Editions Snoeck, Musée National d'Ethnologie,Leiden.

13. Lettre de 19 septembre,in Michel Leiris, Miroir de l'Afrique,Quarto Gallimard, Paris,Editor, Jean Jamin. 1996 p. 204 Translation from. French by K.Opoku

“ …Tout ce que je fais m'intéresse toujours beaucoup, mais je trouve quand même le temps bien long et ne puis jamais me passionner que momentanément pour mon travail, d'autant plus que les méthodes employées pour l'enquête ressemblent beaucoup plus à des interrogatoires de juge d'instruction qu'à des conversations sur un plan amical, et que les méthodes de collecte des objets sont, neuf fois sur dix, des méthodes d'achat forcé, pour ne pas dire de réquisition.

Tout cela jette une certaine ombre sur ma vie et je n'ai la conscience qu'à demi tranquille.

Autant des aventures comme celles des enlèvements du kono, tout compte fait, me laissent sans remords, puisqu'il n'y a pas d'autre moyen d'avoir de tels objets et que le sacrilège lui-même est un élément assez grandiose, autant les achats courants me laissent perplexe, car j'ai bien l'impression qu'on tourne dans un cercle vicieux : on pille des Nègres, sous prétexte d'apprendre aux gens à les connaître et les aimer; c'est-à-dire, en fin de compte, à former d'autres ethnographes qui iront eux aussi les « aimer et les piller Michel Leris.”

See also, “ Extrait de L'Afrique fantôme année 1931 et de la correspondance de Michel Leiris,”


This list is based on the information given on p.4 of the catalogue of the exhibition where they are grouped under countries.

Belgium Antwerp - Lucien Van de Velde
Saint-Niklaas - Su and Jan Calmeyen Collection.

Canada Montreal, Musée des Beaux Arts
Toronto- The Art Gallery of Ontario

France Paris :
Quentin and Majolaine Blazy
Patrick and Beatrice Caput Collection

Musée Dapper
Musée du Quai Branly
Jean- Michel Huguenin
Max Itsikovitz
Guy Ladriére
Cologne - Jörg Rumpl Collection
Düsseldorf - Simonis Archives
Landshut - Skulpturenmuseum im Hofberg,

Stiftung Fritz und Maria Koenig
Rome - Chantal Dandrieu and Fabrizio Giovagnoni

Basel - Bernhard Gardi
Geneva - Musée Barbier-Mueller
Zug - Udo Hortsman
Zurich - Musée Rietberg
United Kingdom
London - Arteas Ltd.
Norwich - Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection

United States of America
Bloomington - Indiana University Art Museum
Houston - Museum of Fine Arts of Houston
The Menil Collection
New Orleans- New Orleans Museum of Art
New York - Brooklyn Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Francesco Pellizzi
Laura and James Ross
San Diego - Richard and Susan Slesinger Ulevitch

San Francisco - Robert T. Wall Family
Seattle - Seattle Art Museum
Tenefly - Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm

Those who can read French are encouraged to read the full statement issued by Aminata Traoré, a great intellectual of our times, on the occasion of the opening of the Musée du Quai Branly.` This text “Musee du Quai Branly et Immigration choisie: droit de cite” has been published at many places e.g.

« Talents et compétences président donc au tri des candidats africains à l'immigration en France selon la loi Sarkozy dite de «l'immigration choisie», votée en mai 2006 par l'Assemblée nationale française. Le ministre français de l'Intérieur s'est offert le luxe de venir nous le signifier, en Afrique, en invitant nos gouvernants à jouer le rôle de geôliers de la «racaille» dont la France ne veut plus sur son sol. Au même moment, du fait du verrouillage de l'axe Maroc-Espagne, après les événements sanglants de Ceuta et Melilla, des candidats africains à l'émigration clandestine, en majorité jeunes meurent par centaines, dans l'indifférence générale, au large des côtes africaines.

L'Europe forteresse, dont la France est l'une des chevilles ouvrières, déploie, en ce moment, une véritable armada contre ces quêteurs de passerelles. Or les oeuvres d'art, qui sont aujourd'hui à l'honneur au musée du Quai Branly, appartiennent d'abord et avant tout aux peuples déshérités du Mali, du Bénin, de la Guinée, du Niger, du Burkina-Faso, du Cameroun, du Congo. Elles constituent une part substantielle du patrimoine culturel et artistique de ces «sans visa» dont certains sont morts par balles à Ceuta et Melilla ou des sans-papiers traqués au coeur de l'Europe et, arrêtés, sont rendus, menottes aux poings à leurs pays d'origine. Dans ma Lettre au président des Français à propos de la Côte-d'Ivoire et de l'Afrique en général, je retiens le musée du Quai Branly comme l'une des expressions parfaites de ces contradictions, incohérences et paradoxes de la France dans ses rapports à l'Afrique. A l'heure où celui-ci ouvre ses portes au public, je me demande jusqu'où iront les puissants de ce monde dans l'arrogance et le viol de notre imaginaire.

Nous sommes invités, aujourd'hui, à célébrer avec l'ancienne puissance coloniale une oeuvre architecturale, incontestablement belle, ainsi que notre propre déchéance et la complaisance de ceux qui, acteurs politiques et institutionnels africains, estiment que nos biens culturels sont mieux dans les beaux édifices du Nord que sous nos propres cieux. Je conteste le fait que l'idée de créer un musée de cette importance puisse naître, non pas d'un examen rigoureux, critique et partagé des rapports entre l'Europe et l'Afrique, l'Asie, l'Amérique et l'Océanie dont les pièces sont originaires, mais de l'amitié d'un chef d'Etat avec un collectionneur d'oeuvre d'art qu'il a rencontré un jour, sur une plage de l'île Maurice. Les trois cent mille pièces que le musée du Quai Branly abrite constituent un véritable trésor de guerre en raison du mode d'acquisition de certaines d'entre elles et le trafic d'influence auquel celui-ci donne parfois lieu entre la France et les pays dont elles sont originaires.

Je ne sais pas comment les transactions se sont opérées du temps de François Ier, de Louis XIV et au XIXe siècle pour les pièces les plus anciennes. Je sais, par contre, qu'en son temps, Catherine Trautman, à l'époque ministre de la Culture de la France dont j'étais l'homologue malienne, m'avait demandé d'autoriser l'achat pour le musée du Quai Branly d'une statuette de Tial appartenant à un collectionneur belge. De peur de participer au blanchiment d'une oeuvre d'art qui serait sortie en fraude de notre pays, j'ai proposé que la France l'achète (pour la coquette somme de deux cents millions de francs CFA), pour nous la restituer afin que nous puissions ensuite la lui prêter. Je me suis entendue dire, au sein du Comité d'orientation dont j'étais l'un des membres, que l'argent du contribuable français ne pouvait pas être utilisé dans l'acquisition d'une pièce qui reviendrait au Mali… Exclue à partir de ce moment de la négociation, j'ai appris par la suite que l'Etat malien, qui n'a pas de compte à rendre à ses contribuables, a acheté la pièce en question en vue de la prêter au musée. Alors, que célèbre-t-on ? La sanctuarisation de la passion que le président français partage avec son ami disparu ainsi que le talent de l'architecte du musée ou les droits culturels, économiques, politiques et sociaux des peuples d'Afrique, d'Asie, d'Amérique et d'Océanie ?

Le musée du Quai Branly est bâti sur un profond et douloureux paradoxe à partir du moment où la quasi-totalité des Africains, des Amérindiens, des Aborigènes d'Australie, dont le talent et la créativité sont célébrés, n'en franchiront jamais le seuil compte tenu de la loi sur l'immigration choisie. Il est vrai que des dispositions sont prises pour que nous puissions consulter les archives via l'Internet. Nos oeuvres ont droit de cité là où nous sommes, dans l'ensemble, interdits de séjour. A l'intention de ceux qui voudraient voir le message politique derrière l'esthétique, le dialogue des cultures derrière la beauté des oeuvres, je crains que l'on ne soit loin du compte. Un masque africain sur la place de la République n'est d'aucune utilité face à la honte et à l'humiliation subies par les Africains et les autres peuples pillés dans le cadre d'une certaine coopération au développement. Bienvenue donc au musée de l'interpellation qui contribuera je l'espère à édifier les opinions publiques françaises, africaine et mondiale sur l'une des manières dont l'Europe continue de se servir et d'asservir d'autres peuples du monde tout en prétendant le contraire.

Enfin, je voudrais m'adresser à ces oeuvres de l'esprit qui sauront intercéder auprès des opinions publiques. «Vous nous manquez terriblement. Notre pays, le Mali, et l'Afrique tout entière subissent bien des bouleversements. Aux dieux des chrétiens et des musulmans qui ont contesté votre place dans nos coeurs et vos fonctions dans nos sociétés s'est ajouté le dieu argent. Vous devez en savoir quelque chose au regard des transactions dont certaines acquisitions de ce musée ont été l'objet. Il est le moteur du marché dit libre et concurrentiel supposé être le paradis sur Terre alors qu'il n'est que gouffre pour l'Afrique. Appauvris, désemparés et manipulés par des dirigeants convertis au dogme du marché, vos peuples s'en prennent les uns aux autres, s'entre-tuent ou fuient. Parfois, ils viennent buter contre le long mur de l'indifférence, dont Schengen. N'entendez-vous pas les lamentations de ceux et celles qui empruntent la voie terrestre, se perdre dans le Sahara ou se noyer dans les eaux de la Méditerranée ? N'entendez-vous pas les cris de ces centaines de naufragés dont des femmes enceintes et des enfants? Si oui, ne restez pas muettes, ne vous sentez pas impuissantes. Rappelez à ceux qui vous veulent tant dans leurs musées et aux citoyens français et européens qui les visitent que l'annulation totale et immédiate de la dette extérieure de l'Afrique est primordiale. Dites-leur que libéré de ce fardeau, du dogme du tout marché qui justifie la tutelle du FMI et de la Banque mondiale, le continent noir redressera la tête »

Aminata Traoré « Nouveau millénaire, Défis libertaires » http://www.afrikara.com2

Reproduced from Red List Africa
The looting of archaeological items and the destruction of archaeological sites in Africa are a cause of irreparable damage to African history and hence to the history of humankind. Whole sections of our history have been wiped out and can never be reconstituted. These objects cannot be understood once they have been removed from their archaeological context and divorced from the whole to which they belong. Only professional archaeological excavations can help recover their identity, their date and their location. But so long as there is demand from the international art market these objects will be looted and offered for sale.

In response of this urgent situation, a list of categories of African archaeological objects particularly at risk from looting was drawn up at the Workshop on the Protection of the African Cultural Heritage held in Amsterdam from 22 to 24 October 1997. Organised by ICOM (International Council of Museums), within the framework of its AFRICOM programme, it brought together professionals from African, European and North American museums to set up a common policy for fighting against the illicit traffic in African cultural property, and to promote regional and international agreements.

The Red List includes the following categories of archaeological items:

• Nok terracotta from the Bauchi Plateau and the Katsina and Sokoto regions (Nigeria)

• Terracotta and bronzes from Ife (Nigeria)
• Esie stone statues (Nigeria)
• Terracotta, bronzes and pottery from the Niger Valley (Mali)

• Terracotta statuettes, bronzes, potteries, and stone statues from the Bura System (Niger, Burkina Faso)

• Stone statues from the North of Burkina Faso and neighbouring regions

• Terracotta from the North of Ghana (Komaland) and Côte d'Ivoire

• Terracotta and bronzes so-called Sao (Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria)

These objects are among the cultural goods most affected by looting and theft. They are protected by national legislation, banned from export, and may under no circumstances be put on sale.

An appeal is therefore being made to museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors to stop buying them.

This list is of objects which are particularly at risk, but in no way should it be considered exhaustive. The question of the legality of export arises with regard to any archaeological item.

ICOM and the Protection of Heritage
ICOM is an international and non-profit organisation dedicated to the development and advancement of museums and the museum profession. Founded in 1946, ICOM counts 15,000 members, providing a world-wide communications network for museum professionals of all disciplines and specialities. It is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in formal association with UNESCO, and has been granted advisory status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Its Paris-based (UNESCO House) Secretariat and Museum Information Centre ensure the day-to-day running of the organisation and the co-ordination of its activities and programmes.

The fight against illicit traffic of cultural property is a priority for ICOM. Museums must be at the forefront of this fight by ensuring that they have a scrupulous acquisitions policy which conforms to the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics.

In Africa, in the framework of AFRICOM (the ICOM programme for Africa), a number of concrete initiatives have been launched to stem looting and thefts. Regional workshops have been organised to reinforce co-operation between museums, police and customs. The improvement of inventory procedures with the finalisation of the Handbook of standards. Documenting African collections has been an essential tool for protecting museum collections. The proper circulation of information on stolen works through the publication of One Hundred Missing Objects. Looting in Africa has raised the awareness of professionals and public alike, and has been a factor in the recovery of items. In October 1997, a new stage was reached in Amsterdam where African, European and North-American professionals rallied in favour of the protection of African cultural heritage. As part of the development of a joint policy to combat trafficking of African cultural objects, recommendations were formulated in the fields of North/South collaboration, training, awareness-raising and research. A Red List of particularly endangered archaeological objects was drawn up.

Since October 1999, AFRICOM has become the International Council of African Museums, an autonomous pan-African organisation for museums, with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Terracotta, bronzes and pottery from the Niger Valley (Mali)

Jenne statue, terracotta � Musée national de Bamako (Mali) Niger valley, Mali.

These objects come from mounds in the flood plains of the Niger river. They are usually known as Jenne after the name of the town close to the archaeological site of Jenne-Jeno, but are actually found throughout the Niger valley. This site is a national heritage site and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

These terracotta sculptures, whose height ranges generally from 20 cm to 40 cm, represent mostly human figurines, often found intact. The human form is represented either kneeling or sitting, with arms crossed over the chest, or hands on thighs, gestures often being asymmetrical. Some horsemen and footmen may have their torsos wound about by a cross belt supporting a quiver. The bodies are smooth or covered with round pastilles, made from fine-grained clay. Pottery, some of which includes anthropomorphic motifs, and metal figurines are also found in this region. Among zoomorphic representations, snakes feature prominently.

The shaven-headed human heads sometimes wear headgear and are characterised by protruding lips, triangular noses and above all by projecting eyeballs, whose brows are in the form of concentric grooves, and whose eyelashes are incisions radiating out from the eye.

One subgroup stands out. It features longer and cylindrical bodies, smaller eyes not surrounded by incisions, as well as a large number of bracelets. These artworks are often classified into styles, from Bankoni and Segou. They come from the Bamako, Segou and Bougouni regions of the South of Mali.

The Musée national of Mali owns all statuettes found during official excavations. The majority of other statuettes known to exist from the Niger valley have been put into circulation by the looting of archaeological sites, 80% or 90% of which have been violated. Very little is therefore known about the cultures which produced these items, in spite of the very large number of objects now available on the art market. Their exact provenance will remain forever unknown, as also their date. The range of dates which the thermoluminescent examinations can provide is so wide that it leaves unresolved the problem of accurate dating.

Given the urgency of the situation, programmes to raise awareness among the local population have been set up and the authorities are in a position to intervene and seize looted objects, as in Thial in 1990, and more recently in the spring of 1999, in a village close to Jenne.






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