German and Nigerian officials have begun historic talks that will likely see ancient Benin artefacts currently in Germany returned to their original home in Nigeria. 

As reported by Artnet, the head of the German foreign ministry’s culture department, Andreas Görgen, last week met with Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Nigeria, furthering conversations on the contested artefacts, including a cache of bronze reliefs, carved ivory, and other sculptures. These were carted from Benin City in a 1897 expedition by British troops, wherein the Benin Palace was sacked and razed. 

The looted artefacts currently lie in museums all over Europe. Germany has expressed it’s interest in restitution and returning the share of the plunder that is in the country, and to transfer full ownership of the treasured artworks to Nigeria.

A Benin Bronze depicting three Benin warriors, from the African collection of the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde München, Maximilianstraße 42, Munich, Germany.
Benin Bronze exhibit in the British museum

Obaseki confirmed, in a press statement following the meeting, that his government will launch an independent trust consisting of “the Royal Family, Edo State Government, the Federal Government, and international stakeholders,” to receive the objects.

However, there is still some uncertainty over the direction this development will go. The Berlin Ethnological Collection, which includes about 530 historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, including 440 bronzes, will go on display at the Humboldt Forum museum. Hartmut Dorgerloh, director of the Humboldt Forum, has informed Artnet News that restitution has not been formally decided. He also quashed early reports and that the objects will not go on display at Humboldt Forum, were incorrect. 

Governor Obaseki also seemed to hint at some form of international co-operation. In his statement, he stated that “Culture is a living thing” and that although the objects are from Benin, “today they are global. So, the idea of having a universal display is something that we cannot run away from.”

Germany’s move to make amends for its past will likely have a ripple effect around Europe and the rest of the west, as several countries grapple with their colonial histories and past injustices.

Categories: News


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