Friday, November 23, 2018

France Returns Some Benin Art to Africa


French President Emmanuel Macron has said that France will return 26 artworks taken from the west African state of Benin in the colonial era. The 26 thrones and statues were taken in 1892 during a colonial war against the then Kingdom of Dahomey. They are currently on display in the Quai Branly museum in Paris. Benin officially asked for their return some years ago (BBC: 'Benin artworks: France to return thrones and statues', 23rd Nov 2018).
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Thursday, November 22, 2018

BBC What do you know about Africa's 'looted treasures'?


BBC Quiz: 'What do you know about Africa's 'looted treasures'?
During colonial rule in Africa, thousands of cultural artefacts were seized from the continent by western countries. But on Friday, France is expected to launch a report calling for thousands of African artefacts in its museums to be returned to the continent. What do you know about Africa's 'looted treasures'? Take the quiz to find out
Or perhaps not. Not very impressive dumbdown. Presenting it in the format of a Treasure hunt (on a treasure map) simply harks back to colonialist stereotypes about the continent. Maybe you 'know' about the Rosetta Stone, elephants and man-eating lions but I don't think you learn anything much from this, in what way is one type of 'loot' from Africa comparable to another? There is a "learn more" link which goes to  'A guide to Africa's 'looted treasures'. This deals with Benin Bronzes, the stuffed lions known as the Man-eaters of Tsavo that the Kenya National Museum wants returned, the Rosetta Stone, the 'Bangwa Queen' , the Maqdala Palace Treasures and Zimbabwe bird sculptures.




France Urged to Change Heritage Law and Return Looted Art to Africa



Le Point s'est procuré le rapport Sarr-Savoy 

sur les restitutions du patrimoine culturel africain, 
commandé par Emmanuel Macron en 2017. Explosif.

Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy
Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
A 108-page report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron has been leaked to a French magazine before its publication on Friday (Laureline Dupont. 'EXCLUSIF. Œuvres d'art africaines: un rapport préconise de tout rendre (ou presque)!' Le Point  20/11/2018). It has been revealed - somewhat alarmistically - that it will call for thousands of African artworks in French museums taken without consent during the colonial period to be eligable for return to the continent, after President Macron announced that he wanted this process to begin within five years. Unless it could be proven that objects were obtained legitimately, they should be returned to Africa permanently, not on long-term loan, as reportedly said the authors of the report, the Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French historian Bénédicte Savoy (Ruth Maclean, 'France urged to change heritage law and return looted art to Africa'  Guardian Wed 21 Nov 2018).
The extent to which France, Britain and Germany looted Africa of its artefacts during colonialism is not known, but according to the report, which will be released this Friday, about 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage currently lies outside the continent. The report’s authors travelled to Mali, Senegal, Cameroon and Benin and looked through the works held by the Musée du quai Branly, a museum focused on non-European cultures in Paris, and found that about 46,000 of its 90,000 African works were “acquired” between 1885 and 1960 and may have to be returned. [...] The systematic looting of African art took different forms: the researchers found that as well as being the spoils of war, theft and pillage, many of the works had been “bought” for fractions of their real value. 
The report has recommended changing French law to allow the restitution of these cultural works to Africa.   
A law would need to be passed in France to change the code of patrimony, and then African countries would have to request that their stolen works be returned. They would be better equipped than ever to do so, because the researchers have sent them lists of the objects. “Travelling in Africa, we saw the effect that these inventories can have, especially on museum directors,” Savoy told Libération. “They never had access to these lists, and never in such a clear and structured way. Highly knowledgeable researchers and teachers were really incredulous when we told them there were so many of their countries’ objects at quai Branly.” 

See also: Kate Brown, 'In a Groundbreaking Report, Experts Advise French President Macron to Begin the ‘Restitution’ of Looted African Arts' ArtNet News November 20, 2018 (scare quotes in original)
The contents of the 108-page study could have far-reaching implications for not only French institutions but also international museums that are facing increasing calls to return works of art and artifacts that come from countries in Africa and beyond, which were arguably stolen. According to the French weekly magazine Le Point, which has previewed the report, its authors [...] support the permanent restitution of African heritage, taking a groundbreaking position on the hotly contested issue. They refer to artifacts acquired through “theft, looting, despoilment, trickery, and forced consent,” in support of their use of the word “restitution.” [...]  “Behind the mask of beauty, the question of restitution invites us to go right to the heart of a system of appropriation and alienation, the colonial system, of which some European museums are today, in their own right, public archives,” begins the eloquently written report.

The report has a limited brief, and in fact does not consider objects from all of Africa in a like manner:
 According to Le Point, the introduction states that the report “concerns only the sub-Saharan part of Africa.” That means that all of French North Africa—modern day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—are excluded. In total, France occupied or colonized, at various times, at least 20 current or former countries in Africa. The nation was a foremost player in the continent’s European colonization and several African nations are still dependent protectorate territories.
The publication of the full text seems likely to provoke resistance in the museum world (and one suspects the dealers of so-called 'tribal art' who will probably now be faced by new demands from their customers for proper documentation as they realise that there may be changes afoot in how such objects are seen):
The report has been anxiously awaited by the directors of French museums and galleries, many of whom hope the document will temper some of the more radical proposals that have been suggested. It seems that the opposite is the case. [...] The appropriateness of the term “restitution” has been disputed within the French museum community, but Savoy and Sarr take a strong position in their continued use of the word. “This term reminds us that the appropriation and enjoyment of the property being returned is based on a morally reprehensible act (theft, looting, despoilment, trickery, forced consent, etc.),” they write.[...] Addressing the major concerns that French museums could be “emptied,” the two recommend the creation of duplicates or facsimiles of objects, where appropriate. France’s holdings of cultural objects from its colonial empire are vast, so there will likely be a strong reaction from the museums when the full report is released at the end of the week.
Savoy and Sarr write that “transitional solutions,” like temporary returns or loans, should be in place only “until legal mechanisms are found to allow the final and unconditional return of heritage objects to the African continent.” The report was written with consultations with around 150 specialists in France and on the continent and comes 'at a time when the subject of colonial restitution has been catapulted from an insider topic within museum communities to a worldwide public issue'.
 The report also recommends rigorous examination of various criteria in determining which objects should be restituted. Works that can be proven to have been acquired with “free, fair, and documented consent” may be retained by French museums. Objects seized during 18th- and 19th-century military campaigns and scientific missions, or objects that were gifted to museums by any agents of colonial administration or their descendants without consent of their original owners, will have a different fate. [...]
'Savoy and Sarr offer a radical shift on how respective parties must view the issue of colonial era artefacts':
They write that the problem arises when a museum is not affirming a national identity but is instead conceived as a museum of “the other,” keeping objects taken from elsewhere and assuming the right to speak about these others, or on their behalf. “Through the objects and stories held in so-called ethnographic collections, controlled representations of societies, which are often essentialized, have been put in place,” they write. “To speak openly about restitution is to speak of justice, rebalancing, recognition, restoration and reparation,” continue Savoy and Sarr. “But above all, it is to pave the way for the establishment of new cultural relationships.”
Exactly how the report is received by Macron and put into action remains, for now, an open question. The full text will be available on Friday, November 23, in English and French at www.restitutionreport2018.com
 

French museums have 90,000 African artefacts


French museums have 90,000 African artefacts, most of which were acquired during the colonial period. Macron promised a return within 5 years (Catherine Calvet et Guillaume Lecaplain 'Vers une remise en Etats des œuvres africaines' Liberation 20 Novembre 2018):

African countries where the artwork of the Quai Branley museum in Paris were made. 
In France debate has been invigorated by the publication of a report by French art historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese academic writer Felwine Sarron on how to deal with the issue: Kate Brown, 'In a Groundbreaking Report, Experts Advise French President Macron to Begin the ‘Restitution’ of Looted African Arts' ArtNet News November 20, 2018 (scare quotes in original)
The introduction states that the report “concerns only the sub-Saharan part of Africa.” That means that all of French North Africa—modern day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—are excluded. In total, France occupied or colonized, at various times, at least 20 current or former countries in Africa. The nation was a foremost player in the continent’s European colonization and several African nations are still dependent protectorate territories. The report also recommends rigorous examination of various criteria in determining which objects should be restituted. Works that can be proven to have been acquired with “free, fair, and documented consent” may be retained by French museums. Objects seized during 18th- and 19th-century military campaigns and scientific missions, or objects that were gifted to museums by any agents of colonial administration or their descendants without consent of their original owners, will have a different fate. Addressing the major concerns that French museums could be “emptied,” the two recommend the creation of duplicates or facsimiles of objects, where appropriate. France’s holdings of cultural objects from its colonial empire are vast, so there will likely be a strong reaction from the museums when the full report is released at the end of the week. One of the most prominent collections is that of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, which holds 450,000 objects from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. artnet News reached out to Stéphane Martin, the president of the museum, to comment on the preview of the report, but the institution said he will wait to respond until the full document can be read on Friday. Exactly how the report is received by Macron and put into action remains, for now, an open question. Regardless, Savoy and Sarr offer a radical shift on how respective parties must view the issue of colonial era artifacts. They write that the problem arises when a museum is not affirming a national identity but is instead conceived as a museum of “the other,” keeping objects taken from elsewhere and assuming the right to speak about these others, or on their behalf. “Through the objects and stories held in so-called ethnographic collections, controlled representations of societies, which are often essentialized, have been put in place,” they write. “To speak openly about restitution is to speak of justice, rebalancing, recognition, restoration and reparation,” continue Savoy and Sarr. “But above all, it is to pave the way for the establishment of new cultural relationships.” 
 The full report will be available on Friday, November 23, in English and French at www.restitutionreport2018.com 


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Artefact Repatriation: Colonial Ghosts Haunt Europe's Museums


Colonised Africa in 1914, the only
independent nations being
Liberia and Ethiopia.
As a result of the scramble for Africa 1880-1914, most of the continent was invaded and annexed by European powers (Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Italy and Spain). As a result of this, cultural property from these countries was taken away and displayed as trophies in European museums, and this prompted the desire for museums elsewhere (the US for example) to also be able to acquire display such items. The UNESCO Convention against the export of illicit cultural goods adopted in 1970 called for the return of cultural property taken from a country but it did not address historic cases, including from the colonial era. With museums fearing they could be forced to return artefacts, former colonial powers have been slow to ratify the convention: France only did so 1997, Britain in 2002, Germany in 2007 and Belgium in 2009.

Expatica Belguim (Art Repatriation: colonial ghosts haunt Europe's museums' Expatica Belgium, 21st November 2018),  gives a useful overview of disputes over artefacts in Europe looted from former African colonies.

Photo still from Marvel's Black Panther.
Britain is one of the prime culprits. The British Empire in Africa included lands in North Africa, such as Egypt, much of West Africa, and huge territories in Southern and East Africa.The country's museums and collectors are a prime destination for looted African art. So far many museums have refused to entertain the notion of letting the 'natives' of their former colonies claim their heritage back:
The British Museum holds a major collection of bronzes from the African Kingdom of Benin that were seized by the British army in 1897. Nigeria, which today covers the ancient territory, wants them returned. The museum says it is ready to send them back but only on loan. London's Victoria and Albert Museum has also said it is open to the long-term loan to Ethiopia of jewellery and manuscripts looted by British soldiers in 1868 when they stormed the Fortress of Magdala during the reign of Emperor Tewodros II. Ethiopia is demanding the return some of the most significant "treasures of Magdala", including a royal crown. Leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has promised to return stolen art to its countries of origin should he become prime minister. 
Another major coloniser was France, though most of these colonies were in the Saharan region, but military escapades elsewhere also led to artefacts being taken away. In total, France occupied or colonized, at various times, at least 20 current or former countries in Africa. The nation was a foremost player in the continent’s European colonization and several African nations are still dependent protectorate territories.

In 2016 Benin demanded the repatriation of a part of its treasures from the Kingdom of Dahomey. They include totems, sceptres and sacred doors from the Royal Palaces of Aboma, which French troops took between 1892 and 1894 and are exhibited in the Quai Branly museum in Paris. While that request was initially denied, it has since found a more sympathetic hearing from French President Emmanuel Macron.
The article then goes on to mention the speech of Macron in Burkina Faso in November 2016 when he promised to "return African heritage to Africa". It then goes on to mention the recent report of  French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr to draw up the conditions that proposes modifying France's heritage law to allow the restitution of cultural works if bilateral accords are struck between France and African states.

Germany is also considering what to do with the items stolen from its colonial-era African empire, which ran from 1884 to the end of the First World War. Among Germany's colonies were German Togoland (now part of Ghana and Togo), Cameroon, German East Africa (now Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania), and German South-West Africa (now Namibia).
In September 2017, minister of culture Monika Gruetters suggested a model similar to that used by the German Centre for Lost Cultural Property. The centre seeks out owners of art plundered by Nazis in order to return the items. The debate could ignite again in 2019 when a major new ethnological museum, the Humboldt Forum, opens its doors. Its collection includes artefacts taken from former German colonies.
The Humboldt Forum in Berlin, will house a major collection of objects from Africa and Asia. Bénédict Savoy resigned from her position on Humboldt Forum’s Advisory Board in a surprise move last year, and this preceded her appointment by Macron to contribute to the French report. 

Belgium was also a coloniser and controlled two colonies during its history: the Belgian Congo from 1885 to 1960 (the personal property of the country's king, Leopold II, rather than being gained through the political or military action of the Belgian state) and and Ruanda-Urundi from 1916 to 1962.
Belgium's debates over its colonial past have coalesced around the vast transformation of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, near Brussels. It was built in the 19th century under King Leopold II to showcase Belgium's presence in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. The renovated museum will reopen in December after five years and promises to offer a "critical view" on colonialism. But in September a collective of associations, universities and Congolese personalities published an open letter demanding the restitution of its works of art. "We can not base intercultural dialogue on former pillaging by colonial murderers: stolen cultural goods must be repatriated," they said.



Intangible values versus the Museum Selfie - Hoa Hakananai’a in Bloomsbury


Stolen and Lost Friend in Bloomsbury
A delegation travelled to London on November 20th  from Rapa Nui ('Easter Island') in the southeastern Pacific Ocean to persuade the British Museum about the need to return to the island the 2.5m tall moai basalt statue that entered the BM's collection 150 years ago when there was no possibility for Londoners to get on a plane and visit monuments like ths in their countries of origin (Naomi Rea, 'Delegates From Easter Island Meet With the Top Brass at the British Museum to Demand the Return of a Monumental Head Sculpture Museum authorities will travel to Rapa Nui to continue the discussion in the coming months' Artnet news November 20, 2018). They have named the statue Hoa Hakananai’a, which translates to “lost or stolen friend”. The statue is currently on view in the BM's Wellcome Trust Gallery, and is said to be 'one of the most popular and most photographed exhibits among its six million annual visitors'. It is only one of about a dozen   examples of the approximately 900 extant Moai created by the island’s early Polynesian inhabitants between 1100 and 1600 A.D. in museums around the world, including in France, Belgium, New Zealand, and the United States. The British Museum example is one of only ten made of the harder basalt.
The Rapa Nui people have noted that the basalt statue [...] is sacred in their culture. The objects are considered living incarnations of indigenous ancestors, the spirits of which watch over their family members. The figure of Hoa Hakananai’a was taken in 1868 by the crew of the HMS Topaze and gifted to Queen Victoria by the naval captain Commodore Richard Powell the following year, along with a smaller head known as Moai Hava. In turn, the Queen donated the statues to the British Museum. [...]  During the meeting, the group spent time with Hoa Hakanana’ia and held a ceremony with offerings, dances, and songs before engaging in a “warm, friendly and open conversation,” according to the British Museum spokesperson. “It was a pretty positive meeting,” the Chilean minister, Ward, said in a statement. “The fact that the authorities of the British Museum have been able to witness the meeting of the representatives of Rapa Nui with the Moai, opens an important door.” 
The visit of the islanders to the statue was an emotional one (Carla Herreria, 'Easter Island Natives Plead For British Museum To Return Ancient Rapa Nui Sculpture' Huffington Post 21st Nov 2018).
“I believe that my children and their children also deserve the opportunity to touch, see and learn from him,” Tarita Alarcón Rapu, governor of the Chilean island, said of the sculpture, according to the Agence France-Presse. “We are just a body. You, the British people, have our soul,” she added.  [...]  “You have kept him for 150 years, just give us some months, and we can have him,” Rapu said in tears outside of the British Museum this week.  “We want the museum to understand that the moai are our family, not just rocks. For us [the statue] is a brother; but for them it is a souvenir or an attraction.”
Anakena Manutomatoma, a member of Easter Island’s development commission, told John Bartlett ('Moai are family': Easter Island people to head to London to request statue back' The Guardian Nov. 16 2018).
 “Once eyes are added to the statues, an energy is breathed into the moai and they become the living embodiment of ancestors whose role is to protect us,” she added.
There is a broader context to this visit.
In recent years, the Rapanui people have ramped up efforts to preserve the island’s indigenous culture and gain independence from the Chilean government, which in 1888 annexed the island. Easter Island is located some 2,200 miles from the South American continent. The campaign to return moai to the island is a part of those efforts. “Perhaps in the past we did not attach so much importance to Hoa Hakananai’a and his brothers, but nowadays people on the island are starting to realize just how much of our heritage there is around the world and starting to ask why our ancestors are in foreign museums,” Rapanui sculptor Benedicto Tuki told BBC. 
The islanders hope that the British Museum will exchange the Hoa Hakananai’a  for an identical  modern replica made by Tuki
 “Perhaps it won’t possess the same ancestral spirit, but it will look identical,” he said. “My only wish is for him to return home; for me this is worth far more than any amount of money. As long as I live, I will fight to see our ancestors returned to the island.”
And the exotic look of the items is what counts to most of the selfie-posing tourists that currently visit the attraction in London, who probably are totally unawaere of the intangible bvalues attacted to it by the islanders from whose home it has been taken.


BM officials now Claim the Need for an Easter Island Jolly on Taxpayer' Expense


Tarita Alarcon Rapu, Governor of Easter
Island outside the British Museum
on November 20, 2018.  Photo by
Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
.
Delegates From Easter Island have convinced British Museum authorities to travel to Rapa Nui soon, to continue the discussion over the Hoa Hakananai’a ownership. As 'Elginism' notes, that's a better treatment than the British Museum has ever given Greece over the Parthenon Marbles.

Naomi Rea, 'Delegates From Easter Island Meet With the Top Brass at the British Museum to Demand the Return of a Monumental Head Sculpture Museum authorities will travel to Rapa Nui to continue the discussion in the coming months' Artnet news November 20, 2018
Although the meeting did not result in a concrete resolution, British Museum authorities did accept an invitation from the delegation to continue the talks on Rapa Nui. [...] the most important outcome of this initial meeting, Ward said, was an invitation extended by the Rapa Nui people to British Museum authorities to visit the island and continue the talks there. “That was accepted on the spot by the museum authorities and we are happy with that,” Ward said following the meeting with top officials, including the museum’s director Hartwig Fischer and deputy director Jonathan Williams. The visit will be finalized in the coming months.