Germany has just released a Code of Conduct for Colonial-Era Artifacts in an effort to correct a blind spot in its cultural policies. The 130-page guidelines “Guide to Dealing With Collection Goods From Colonial Contexts” outline methodologies for provenance research and possibilities for restitution ( Kate Brown, ArtNet News 17th May 2018).
Since taking office for a second term, Grütters has made confronting Germany’s colonial history a centerpiece of her platform. Last month, she announced that the German Lost Art Foundation—originally established to investigate Nazi-looted art in public collections—would dedicate some of its funding and research to colonial-era objects. Her effort coincides with a similar push by French president Emmanuel Macron, who has been vocal about his support of the full restitution of African colonial-era artifacts. Public outcry over Germany’s forthcoming Humboldt Forum, which will hold its Asian and ethnographic collections in the reconstructed Prussian palace in Berlin, has also played no small role in instigating the German government to become more proactive about its colonial restitution policies. Still, some critics say the new guidelines represent more talk than concerted action. They note that the code is non-binding and largely only governs objects that violated the “legal and ethical standards” in former colonies at the time. [...] Eckart Köhne, the president of the German Association of Museums, has said that he hopes the code of conduct will generate global discussion. The association is also soliciting input from other countries, particularly those in Africa, and plans to publish a revised version of the guidelines in a year and a half.The guidelines will be published soon also in English and French,