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How Germany Changed Its Mind, and Gave Benin Bronzes Back to Nigeria - The New York Times - 2 views

  • by a changing social consensus about the ethics of holding on to such items, and further strengthened by a backlash against Germany’s flagship cultural project: the Humboldt Forum,
  • Germany’s approach also contrasts with those of the United States and British governments, which have left decisions up to individual institutions
  • some of the most important museums in England cannot return their Benin Bronzes, even if they wanted to, without a change in the law. That includes the British Museum, which owns about 900 of the artifacts, arguably the world’s finest collection.
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  • a key turning point there occurred in 2019, amid growing public pressure.
  • a rising awareness in Germany of its own colonial crimes — including the killing of tens of thousands of Nama and Herero people in what is now Namibia. The atrocity, carried out between 1904 and 1908, is widely seen as the first genocide of the 20th century.
  • Until then, the main vehicle for discussing the return of the Benin Bronzes had been the Benin Dialogue Group, a network founded in 2010 that brought together Nigerian representatives and figures from European museums with bronzes in their collections. The group, however, favored loans over transfers of ownership.
  • The agreement stipulated that all objects that had been obtained “unethically” would be liable for return and directed institutions to facilitate claims by producing publicly available inventories.
  • obstacles remained on the Nigerian side. Although the country had requested the return of the bronzes since the 1970s, there was conflict over who would take ownership of the artifacts. Both the Nigerian government and the oba of Benin, whose family ruled the historical Kingdom of Benin from which they were looted, claimed that they owned the items. Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State, where Benin City is, said he acted as a facilitator to resolve the dispute.
  • Ultimately, he said, the oba’s family, Nigeria’s museum commission and the government of Edo State agreed to join a trust together, with independent directors that oversee the construction and operation of the new museum.
  • the agreement allows for 168 pieces chosen by Nigeria’s museum commission to remain in Germany “so that Benin’s art can be shown to the world.” The approximately 350 other bronzes that were part of the Berlin museum collections will be transported to Nigeria once the pavilion is completed.
  • Edo Museum of West African Art
  • It remains unclear who will pay for the shipment and insurance of the remaining items in Germany, and he noted that the bronzes’ storage and upkeep will come at a considerable cost, including electrical bills for climate control.
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    The foreign minister's trip is the culmination of a yearslong process that upended Germany's approach to handling cultural items unjustly obtained during the colonial period. It is also part of a pioneering model for large-scale restitution, in which ownership is swapped before any artifacts change hands. Crucially, that approach allows for items to be restituted even if the country of origin does not yet have the facilities to store and exhibit them.
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Human bones, stolen art: Smithsonian tackles its 'problem' collections - The Washington... - 0 views

  • a new collections policy that requires Smithsonian museums to collaborate with the communities represented by their holdings and to return or share ownership of items that might have been previously stolen or acquired under duress.
  • The policy requires human remains “be treated with dignity and respect, as those once living, and not objectified as a scientific resource.”
  • As Smithsonian officials celebrated the deaccessioning of works held by its African Art museum, they ignored another 21 Benin sculptures in the collection of the National Museum of Natural History
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  • One floor above the African exhibit, which opened in 1999, the bones of Robert Kennicott, the famed Smithsonian explorer who once lived in the Castle, are on view.
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