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Demonstrators in front of the Bode Museum in the central district of the German capital city on Saturday / Photo: Femi Awoniyi

Berlin demonstrators demand return of Benin artworks to Nigeria

A few number of activists turned out on a cold and raining Saturday in Berlin for a public demonstration for the return to Nigeria of Benin artworks in German museums.

Even though hundreds of protesters were expected to participate in the action, the low turnout did not dampen the enthusiasm of the activists.

They say the demonstration, which was held in front of the Bode-Museum in the central district of the German capital city, had made its point that it’s wrong to continue to hold on to the artworks, which were taken from Benin without permission of the owners during the colonial era.

The exhibition Beyond Compare: Art from Africa is presently showing in the Bode-Museum until June 2019. “The exhibition addresses major themes of human experience, such as power and death, beauty and identity, justice and memory”. Eighty major works of African sculpture are currently on display to contrast art from Italy and central Europe.

Commemorative head of a king (Kingdom of Benin, dated 17th-18th Century, made of copper alloy), one of the African artworks currently being exhibited in the Bode-Museum under the exhibition “Beyond Compare”. Eighty major works of African sculpture are currently on display to contrast art from Italy and central Europe / Photo: Femi Awoniyi

 

British forces raided and destroyed Benin City in today’s Nigeria about 120 years ago. They looted thousands of invaluable works of art from the burnt royal palace and sold it to Western museums and private art collectors. After London, Berlin has the second largest collection of more than 500 pieces, many of which have never been shown to the public.

Organised by Decolonize and ISD Bund e.V. (Initiative of Black People in Germany), the protesters called on the German government to cause the artworks to be returned to the rightful owners.

Organizers “demand the restitution of all African art whose acquisition cannot be proved to have been fair and legal”. Similar actions have taken place in London and Paris in the past.

Femi Awoniyi

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