Mon, 14 May 2018 Feature Article

‘We Will Return Looted And Stolen Objects’: Parzinger’s Miraculous Change Or Cultivated Misunderstanding?

Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, NigeriaQueen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria

‘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’.

Amadou-Moktar M’Bow, former Director-General of UNESCO. (1)

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Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, on its way to Humboldt Forum’ Berlin, Germany. How much more do German scholars still need to know about her before she can return to Benin, Nigeria, after an exile dating to 1897?

Die Zeit has published the following statement from Herman Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation: ‘We will return looted and stolen objects, other objects can be loaned’. (2) Those who have read previous statements by Herman Parzinger would be surprised and relieved to hear that the man who said we need, for restitution of looted African objects, rules similar to the Washington Principles on the restitution of Nazi looted objects, and also called for a UN/UNESCO conference to establish rules for dealing with colonial legacy, is now saying that looted/stolen objects found among the cultural artefacts that the Humboldt Forum will inherit from the Ethnology Museum, Dalhem, would be returned. From arguing that there are no rules governing the looted colonial artefacts in Western museums, the President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, has come to recognize that indeed there are rules; he has proclaimed that the looted/stolen objects will be returned as we have been claiming in uncountable articles and since decades. (3) Has Macron’s Ouagadougou Declaration had effect here? Even though Parzinger is not enthusiastic about Macron’s Declaration, he seems to recognize their possible impact on the rest of Europe. (4) So, what are some of the looted/stolen artefacts that must be returned?

One can take it as a rule of guidance that most African artefacts in Western museums have been looted/stolen and that unless there is incontrovertible evidence that they have been legally acquired from authorised sources, they must be regarded as dubious acquisitions and most probably looted or stolen. The burden of proof is on the party that alleges legality to overturn the general presumption of illegality. Please note that we are saying mostof the quality African objects displayed in Western museums are of dubious origins. Note also that in the English usage we are familiar with, most does not mean all. Certain Western museum directors and their supporters seem to think that a call for the return of some of the looted African artefacts is a call for the return of all African artefacts in the West. A famous Western director, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, seemed to think so. (5)

The Ethnological Museum, Berlin, from which the Humboldt Forum has inherited hundreds of African and Asian artefacts, has been regarded over many decades as detaining many looted/stolen artefacts. Already in 1897,Richard Kandt, Resident of the German Empire in Ruanda, wrote to Felix von Luschan, Deputy Director of the Ethnology Museum, Berlin. “It is especially difficult to procure an object without at least employing some force. I believe that half of your museum consists of stolen objects.” (6)

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Ngonso: the female founding dynastic figure from the Nso Kingdom, in the Western Grassfields, Cameroon. This revered figure was stolen out of its safe-keeping place in the Nso Palace during German colonial occupation and is now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.

Let us for a moment look at the most famous of all looted artefacts in the Berlin museum, the Benin artefacts¸ leaving aside Nefertiti which is not in the Ethnology Museum but in the Neues Museum. Readers will have heard the history of these artefacts quite often. In 1897 the British army invaded Benin City, allegedly as punishment for the killing of British officials who had entered in the previous year the territory of Benin against the will of the Oba who had suggested they postpone their proposed visit. The so-called punitive expedition killed hundreds of Benin citizens, looted some 3500 artefacts from the palace, exiled the Oba, and burnt Benin City. (7)

The looted artefacts were sold at auctions in England three months after the invasion in the same year of 1897. Many Europeans, especially the Germans, bought a lot of these artefacts. Indeed, it was the German interest in acquiring more of these artefacts that made the British Museum interested in securing more of them. Felix Luschan, contrary to the British who were still emphasizing the so-called primitivity of Benin art, had immediately recognized the excellent craftmanship of the Benin artists whom he compared to European masters such as Cellini:

‘These Benin works stand among the highest heights of European casting. Benvenuto Cellini could not have made a better cast himself, nor anyone before or after him, even to the present day. These bronzes stand at the summit of what is technically possible. ‘(8)

Purchase of Benin artefacts at British auctions has given some Germans and Austrians a good conscience to argue that they, who did not themselves loot the Benin artefacts, have a perfect legal right to hold the artefacts. As we have often argued, even under German law such purchases would be regarded as invalid and illegal since the purchaser could not claim to have bought the objects in good faith, im guten Glauben, with bona fides. The Austrians, British, Dutch, and Germans who bought looted Benin artefacts knew that the objects had been looted a few months earlier and indeed had been informed by the dealers, such as the notorious W. Downing Webster that the objects had just come from the field. Titles of auction catalogues were enough to inform purchasers of the source of the objects to be sold. One such catalogue from Webster was entitled Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens, in Bronze, Wrought Iron, Ivory and Wood from Benin City, West Africa, Taken at the Fall of the City in February 1897, by the British Punitive Expedition under the Command of Admiral Rawson 21. (9) Indeed, Europeans such as Luschan and others who encouraged the British in their criminal enterprise by supporting the use of violence against the people of Benin City, could probably be considered as accomplices before the fact and as accomplices after the fact as far as they willingly welcomed and purchased the stolen artefacts, thus providing a safe storage for the looted objects.

Parzinger and others had tried also to argue that there had been a thriving market for Benin artefacts before the invasion of 1897 but in view of the opinion of specialists such as Luschan that before the British invasion there were hardly any Benin artefacts in Europe, that line of argument has been abandoned. (10)

The opinion held by most people in Europe is that African artefacts in western museums are largely looted/stolen goods. The German art magazine, art- Das Kunstmagazin in its issue of May 2018, in its editorial states:

‘It has been clear to all for a very long time, that many pieces are stored in Western museums that were looted with violence and were stolen as intentional humiliation of African cultures. It is clear to all that there is no moral justification to hold the pieces here. But the museum person is a collector and preserver, he has been so trained, and employed for that purpose.’ (11)

The editor was surprised that none of the ethnology museum directors his magazine interviewed about the Benin artefacts expressed the view that what does not belong to us should be returned. Contrasting the attitude of the German directors with that of their French counterparts, who seem to have accepted the views of President Macron, the editor concluded that the nature of the problem in Germany is demonstrated by the general opinion of the museum directors, none of whom seemed to be in favour of restitution. (12)

The question though that one may ask, following the Declaration of President Macron on 28 November 2018 and its seemingly general approval, is whether the question of restitution of looted/stolen colonial artefacts would not be more properly addressed directly to political authorities who have the power to decide on political, ethical, or legal grounds the issues. Usually, the looted objects would be State property and museum directors are administrators who report to pollical authorities. Usually, colonial looting was done on the authority of political entity as can be easily seen in the looting of Benin artefacts in Benin City or the looting of Dahomean artefacts under General Dodds in Dahomey, now in Republic of Benin. Politicians may have been escaping from their responsibility here, leaving the task to museum directors who for various reasons are not bold enough to direct the questions to their political authorities. In some cases, the question of restitution is turned into a game of delaying tactics. When you ask the British Government, it will direct you to the British Museum. If you ask the British Museum it will redirect you to Parliament, saying only Parliament can change the law that prevents them from de-accessioning objects under their control. (13)

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Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum/Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

Will Hermann Parzinger accept that the Benin artefacts were looted/stolen and should be returned to Nigeria or would he, contrary to his declaration to return looted pieces, seek refuge by resorting to arguments on the need for provenance research, which according to him, takes time and much resources? Such pre-Ouagadougou arguments and tactics should be abandoned now since Macron’s declaration has made them untenable. It is interesting to note that the need for provenance research into looted African art only became popular with scholars as Africans demanded restitution. What have these scholars been doing all the time since 1897 when looted Benin Bronzes were acquired by German museums? Whilst provenance research has been usual regarding Nazi-looted objects, looted African objects were not so treated. Why? Racism? Do these scholars who now say provenance research takes time require another 100 years? And what will the German museums do if after a long period of provenance research, they find that the looted Benin objects were indeed looted? Will they return the objects to the original owners in Benin or do what the Hamburg Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe did recently? They transferred the three Benin bronzes which their own research showed had been looted not to the Oba of Benin but to the Ethnology Museum in Hamburg that has more looted Benin artefacts. (14) Sometimes you wonder whether European scholars think Africans have no brains. The Art Newspaper reports as follows: There are no immediate plans to return the sculptures to Nigeria, says Sabine Schulze, the museum’s director. “Hamburg could take a pioneering role and return the first bronzes to their country of origin. That would be a signal!” she wrote in the exhibition catalogue. She said, though, that “we cannot decide alone over the future of these objects—not in the MKG, not in Hamburg”. Their fate requires “transnational discussions and models of conduct” and “joint decisions”. The decision here is like a court deciding that a stolen car which has been recovered should not be returned to the original owner but to another dealer who holds many more stolen cars. He would know how to deal with stolen cars.

The Ethnology Museum will no doubt do again provenance research on the three artefacts that have already been subject of provenance research and declare it cannot take any decision on restitution concerning the looted artefacts. The City of Hamburg, owner of the artefacts, will also say it cannot decide without the Federal Government and the other museums. This will drag on for a while. (15)

Could it be that Parzinger is calculating that such a statement on willingness to return looted objects could earn the Humboldt Forum public goodwill without the institution having in practice to give up any objects? The declaration of such an intention will earn good publicity and goodwill but will only be tested when a situation arises where the Humboldt Forum must state clearly what it understands by ‘looted’ or ‘stolen’ objects and whether that includes the Benin artefacts. The average newspaper reader will not remember that in a parliamentary discussion on the legality of the holding of the Benin bronzes, the Berlin Government and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation had declared that in their opinion the Benin bronzes had been properly and legally acquired:

‘A greater part of the 507 objects that constitute the Benin-Collection of the Ethnologisches Museum was acquired between 1897 and 1925 from the art market in London, and partly in Lagos. The Government and the Foundation Preussischer Kulturbesitz are of the view that these objects were legally acquired and that there is no International Law basis for demands for restitution' (16)

The general public, with support of many scholars, has a different understanding from that of the Humboldt Forum/Parzinger on what are stolen/looted artefacts. Most people and scholars will agree that the Germans could not have obtained a greater right than the British who sold them looted Benin artefacts. Humboldt Forum and Parzinger believe that the Germans legally acquired the Benin artefacts despite the violence used by the British to deprive the people of Benin of their rights.

After the devastating lootings of Napoleon and his troops in 1815, European International Law clearly regarded looting of cultural artefacts in war time as illegitimate. Dr. Vrdoljak has stated:

'By mid-1815, there was broad agreement that the French confiscations of cultural objects were contrary to contemporary rules of law and that objects could not remain in Parisian collections.' (17) Again, we have the view expressed by Andy Ho that the Congress of Vienna (1815), held after the defeat of France at Waterloo, settled the illegality of looting works of art in wartime:

'The peace treaty explicitly required France to return a very wide range of cultural property to European countries from which they had been looted. Clearly, then in 1860, when the Anglo-French force invaded Beijing, it had no legal rights under prevailing international law to the antiquities it took'. (18)

Prof, Neil Brodie has written: 'It should be recognized internationally that the Benin artworks were taken forcibly by an imperial power and, following the precedents of 1815 and 1945, that they should be returned. Ownership should be vested with an appropriate authority in Nigeria'. (19)

Assuming Parzinger and Humboldt Forum agree to restitution of the Benin artefacts, how many must be returned? The question of numbers can only be adequately answered when we know how many of these artefacts are in the Ethnology Museum, Berlin. At different times, different figures have been given from 507 in a parliamentary answer to 580 that Luschan declared. What then explains this big difference? We know from the recent auction of a Benin commemorative figure at Wurzburg that the Ethnologisches Museum sold or exchanged some Benin bronzes. Should the museum not give us a definitive figure and satisfactory explanation of these discrepancies? (20)

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Female figure carrying a bowl, Nso, Cameroon, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.

If we accept that the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, now has 507 Benin artefacts, how many should be returned to the rightful owners in Benin City, Nigeria? There should be no hard and fast rule about this but taking all relevant factors into account, there is no reason the Ethnology Museum should retain more than 100 pieces, bearing in mind that other German institutions also have Benin artefacts. (21) After all, Benin artefacts are not part of German culture. Besides, there is here no reciprocity. No Nigerian institution has any German artefact.

As for loans of looted artefacts, we have already expressed our fundamental objections to the idea. Everybody should understand why a loan of looted Benin artefacts to the Oba of Benin by the successors to the looters of 1897 does not make sense and is travesty of history. (22) Could the looters loan the looted object to others? Could, for example, the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, loan the bust of Queen-Mother Idia to a museum in Ghana instead of returning it to the Oba of Benin who has been asking for its return? I believe the question itself shows the absurdity and the complications that such a loan could create.

If Westerners can abandon or at least reduce their almost instinctive arrogance that always surfaces when they discuss the restitution of African artefacts, it may be possible to develop other concepts that would cover their holding African artefacts without reversing or obscuring the historical fact that it was the West that looted African artefacts and cannot be presented as owners of the looted objects they are now generously offering to loan to Africans.

It would be possible to describe the keeping of African artefacts, after discussions with the owners, as being entrusted to Western States and their museums in guardianship, under conditions agreed upon by parties as to when the objects can be returned to the African owners. This would avoid some of the difficulties of loan of the object to its owners. A similar concept was used by France and Nigeria as regards the illegal purchase of three Nok pieces but under conditions that were never properly explained and thus rightly met with general condemnation. (23) The concept of guardianship would probably be accepted by most people whereas loan as such would be rejected for its implications and complications.

Parzinger and the German authorities should realize that Luschan’s purchases of looted Benin artefacts from auctioneers in Britain cannot be treated like the purchase of a souvenir by a German tourist in Regent Street London.

The colonial context of the looting and purchase of Benin artefacts prevent us from considering the frenetic purchases by Luschan and others in 1897 and thereafter as ordinary simple purchases.

Germany has never voluntarily started a decolonization process. It lost its colonies through defeat by other imperialist powers and hence perhaps there is lack of historical knowledge and sensibility for appreciating the colonial context of acquisition of African artefacts and the fundamental links between restitution and colonialism. But it should be no surprise that whenever the issue of returning African artefact arises, the whole German colonial history is resurrected. Colonialism and colonial robbery are inextricably intertwined. There cannot be complete decolonization without restitution of looted artefacts.

Emmanuel Macron who has tried to free himself from the colonial past and wants to free France from the stigma of colonial robbery, has found himself logically involved in the restitution of colonial looted artefacts. The obvious links between colonialism and colonial looting of artefacts have obliged him to take necessary steps in the direction of restitution. Do other European countries not see this necessity? Similarly, African States cannot consider decolonization to be complete until and unless colonial looted artefacts are returned, and some mutual arrangements are achieved.

Germany cannot pretend not to be concerned by all this. There is now a second historic opportunity, after the Independence period, to free themselves from the burden of their imperialist past. Can they remain hesitant and continue playing pre-Ouagadougou games? The path taken by Macron is nearer to the word and spirit of the resolutions adopted by the United Nations/UNESCO since 1972 urging the return of cultural property to its country of origin.

Parzinger and the other directors at the Humboldt Forum must recognize that our time is for restitution. Magnus Magnusson has rightly stated:

The German language has the word for it: Zeitgeist. The Zeitgeist, literally, „time spirit “, the attitude or general outlook of a specific time or age; The Zeitgeist of the early twenty-first century where restitution and redemption are concerned is so much more humane than that of the twentieth century”. (24)

The Humboldt Forum which was to be a showcase of German cultural and political enterprise, is tending to become a post-mortem examination of German colonial past, with frequent references to the Nazi era and harking to German imperialism. Germany deserves better than this.

To all those Europeans and other Westerners who are still experiencing difficulties in accepting the idea that Africans should have some of their looted artefacts back or are still shocked by the declaration by President Macron on 28 November 2017 at Ouagadougou that African artefacts should be highlighted not only in Paris but must also be seen in Dakar, Lagos, and Cotonou, I recommend a reading of this passage from Bénédicte Savoy’s Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France:

’We, Europeans, who have received and transmitted and continue to transmit these objects, are on the side of the conquerors. To a certain extent, this is also a ‘heritage that weighs us down’. But there is no fatality. The good news is that in 2017 the history of Europe being what it is and has also been for centuries, a history of enmity between our nations of bloody wars and discriminations painfully overcome after the Second World War, we have within ourselves the sources and resources to understand the sadness, or the anger or hatred of those who, in other tropics, much further away, poorer, weaker, and have been subjected in the past to the intensive absorbing power of our continent. Or to put it simply: it would be sufficient today to make a very tiny effort of introspection and a slight step aside for us to enter into empathy with the dispossessed peoples.’’ (25)

Kwame Opoku.

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Throne of The King of Bamum, Cameroon, now in The Ethnology Museum, Berlin, Germany.

1. A Plea for the Return of an Irreplaceable Cultural Heritage to Those Who Created It’, A-M. M’Bow, in Lyndel V. Prott (ed.) Witnesses to History-Documents and Writings on the return of Cultural Property, UNESCO Publishing, 2009, p.30.

2. Zeit › DIE ZEIT Archiv › Jahrgang 2018 › Ausgabe: 18

Monika Grütters - News und Infos | ZEIT ONLINE
3. K. Opoku, Kwame Opoku: When Will Britain Return Looted Ghanaian Artefacts ...

Parzinger’s Misconceptions and Misrepresentations about Restitution of African Artefacts

Nigeria must tell artefacts looters the game is over - Ligali

Germans Debate Legitimacy and Legality of Looted Artefacts in Ethnology Museum, Berlin.

4. K. Opoku – Parzinger’s Misconceptions and Misrepresentations about Restitution of African Artefacts ...

Parzinger's Cri De Coeur: Genuine Plea for UN/UNESCO Assistance or Calculation to delay Restitution? ...

News „Parzinger: 'Wir brauchen internationale Regeln'“ (25.01.2018)

Präsident der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz: Hermann Parzinger ... › Kultur
5. K. Opoku´s response to Philippe de Montebello -

Philippe de Montebello response to Kwame Opoku - ›
6., Dass der Erwerb von Ethnographica in der Kolonialzeit auf der Grundlage mehr oder minder “struktureller Gewalt” erfolgte, soll hier in diesem Rahmen nicht näher verfolgt werden. Einzelnen Zeitgenossen war diese Tatsache im Übrigen durchaus bewußt. So schrieb der Afrikareisende und Resident des Deutschen Reiches in Ruanda, Richard Kandt, 1897 an Felix von Luschan, den stellvertretenden Direktor des Berliner Völkerkunde-Museums: Überhaupt ist es schwer, einen Gegenstand zu erhalten, ohne zum mindesten etwas Gewalt anzuwenden. Ich glaube, daß die Hälfte Ihres Museums gestohlen ist‘. Cornelia Essner, Berlins Völkerkunde-Museum in der Kolonialära: Anmerkungen zum Verhältnis von Ethnologie und Kolonialismus in Deutschland in: Berlin in Geschichte und GegenwartJahrbuch des Landesarchivs Berlin, (Ed.) Hans J. Reichhardt, Siedler Verlag, 1986, p.77.

7. Sylvester Ogbechie, The Sword of Oba Ovonramwen - aachronym ovonramwen.html? view=classic

8. Felix von Luschan, Die Altertümer von Benin, 1919, Band I, Einleitung, p.15

Diese Benin-Arbeiten stehen nämlich auf der höchsten Höhe der europäischen Güßtechnik. Benvenuto Cellini hätte sie nicht besser gießen können und niemand weder vor ihm noch nach ihm, bis auf den heutigen Tag.

Diese Bronzen stehen technisch eben auf der Höhe des überhaupt Erreichbaren.

At Luschan’s time, the Ethnology Museum had some 580 Benin artefacts but in recent times, the museum mentions only 507 Benin bronzes. Why the discrepancy? See K. Opoku, Benin To Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin Bronzes Made In ...

9. See also, Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria's Demand For ...

objects | No Humboldt 21

At the end of the article in No Humboldt 21 is a link to Felix von Luschan, Die Altertümer von Benin, 1919.

10. Speaking with reference to the Benin bronzes, Parzinger declared: ‘But to say they are all stolen objects so send them back is too simple, especially since many pieces were acquired from the market before the British punitive expedition’

Aber zu sagen, es ist alles gestohlen, also zurück damit, ist zu einfach, zumal etliche Stücke auch schon vor der britischen Strafexpedition auf dem Markt erworben worden sind.‘ Parzinger's Misconceptions and Misrepresentations ... - Modern Ghana

11. ART, Das Kunstmagazin, May 2018, p.3. ‘Denn längst ist allen bekannt, wie viele Stücke in den westlichen Museen lagern, die mit Gewalt geraubt und als bewusste Demütigung afrikanischen Kulturen gestohlen wurden. Längst ist allen klar, dass es keine moralische Rechtfertigung gibt, sie hierzubehalten. Aber der Museumsmensch ist nun mal ein Sammler und Bewahrer, so ist er erzogen, und dafür ist er angestellt. Und selbst wenn er wollte, durfte er nichts hergeben, denn er ist nur Verwalter die geraubten Schätze. Und an wen eigentlich sollte er etwas zurückgeben, wenn er denn durfte?‘

12. ART, p.119. See also, K. Opoku, Musée Du Quai Branly as Ally in Quest for Restitution of African .Artefacts..

13. K. Opoku, Is the de-accession policy of the British Museum a farce? .

Once in the British Museum, always in the British Museum ...

14. K .Opoku, Obviously Looted: Benin Bronzes in Museum of Arts And Crafts ...

15. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg - start

This Friday,18 May 2018, the Hamburg museum will be holding a public meeting that will discuss, inter alia, restitution to which many African speakers, including Kum’a Ndumbe, Achille Mbembe and Sururu Mboro are invited. We hope they will tell the German public the African view on such matters. Ndumbe, our great scholar, should tell the history of the struggle of his people to recover from the Ethnology Museum, Munich, now Five Continents Museum, the looted tangué, an artefact of his people, the Bele Bele, that the Germans stole from his great-grand father in 1884 in Douala.

Alexandre Kum'a Ndumbe III. – Wikipedia

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Tangués im Museum Fünf Kontinente

Isabel Pfaff: Unter falscher Flagge. Ein afrikanischer Schatz hängt seit 1885 im Münchner Völkerkundemuseum, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 20. Juni 2013, p. 11

Joachim Zeller: Die Königsinsignien von Kum'a Mbape aus Kamerun – Der Streit um koloniales Raubgut im Münchener Völkerkundemuseum, in: Ulrich van der Heyden und Joachim Zeller (Hrsg.): Kolonialismus hierzulande – Eine Spurensuche in Deutschland. Sutton Verlag, Erfurt, pp. 328–329. K. Opoku, Benin To Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin Bronzes Made In ...

16. K. Opoku,’Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria's Demand For ...

17. Ana Filipa Vrdoljak, International Law, Museums and the Return of Cultural Objects, Cambridge, University Press, Cambridge, 2006, p.26.

18. Andy Ho, 'Case for returning pillaged antiquities' The Straits Times 12-03-2009

19) Neil Brodie -'Compromise and restorative justice: More about Benin' benin_ 2011. pdf

20. Loot In Loot -Benin Head Of Oba In Nazi Looted Jewish Art Collection ...

For a full discussion of this issue see Kwame Opoku – Humboldt Forum and Selective Amnesia: Research instead of Restitution of African Artefacts ... footnote 10.

21. Many German institutions have their own collections of Benin artefacts. K. Opoku, Parzinger's Misconceptions and Misrepresentations about Restitution of African Artefacts - Modern Ghana

22. K. Opoku, Loan of Looted Ethiopian Treasures to Ethiopia: Must Europeans always win? ...

23. K. Opoku,’ Revisiting Looted Nigerian Nok Terracotta Sculptures In Louvre ...

24. Magnus Magnusson, in Jeanette Greenfield, The Return of Cultural Treasures, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p.12.

25.‘Nous, les Européens, qui avons reçu et transmis et continuons de transmettre ces objets, nous sommes du côté des vainqueurs. D’une certaine manière, cela aussi, c’est un « héritage qui nous écrase ». Mais il n’y a pas de fatalité. La bonne nouvelle, c’est qu’en 2017 l’histoire de l’Europe ayant été ce qu’elle a été aussi pendant des siècles, une histoire d’inimitiés entre nos nations, de guerres sanglantes et de discriminations péniblement surmontées après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, nous avons à l’intérieur de nous-mêmes les sources et les ressources pour comprendre la tristesse, ou la colère, ou la haine de ceux qui, sous d’autres tropiques, plus loin, plus pauvres, plus faibles, ont été soumis par le passé à « l’intense pouvoir absorbant » de notre continent. Ou pour dire les choses simplement : il nous suffit aujourd’hui d’un minuscule effort d’introspection et d’un léger pas de côté pour entrer en empathie avec les dépossédés.

Bénédicte Savoy, Objets du désir. Désir d’objets Histoire culturelle du patrimoine artistique en Europe. XVIIIe–XXe siècles Leçon inaugurale prononcée au Collège de France le 30 mars 2017 The lecture has now been published in the series Leçons Inaugurales du Collège de France, I fayard, 2017.

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Mask, Chibanga, Gabon, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, on its way to Humboldt Forum, Berlin.