Benin artwork on display at the British Museum in London, which holds about 700 such articles / Photo: Screenshot/Aljazeera

Demonstration in Berlin for return of stolen Benin artworks to Nigeria

Hundreds of activists are expected to turn out in Berlin on Saturday, 8 December for a public demonstration for the return to Nigeria of Benin artworks in German museums.

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 down 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 will call 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”.

Currently some of the most valuable works of African art are displayed as part of the exhibition “Unvergleichlich” at the Bode Museum Berlin.

“The subtitle of this exhibition is “On the Way to the Humboldt Forum”. We believe it is time to exchange this title into “On the Way Back Home,” the protest organizers said. “We say the German government should offer these masterpieces to those whose ancestors created them.”

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Campaigners have been calling on museums in European countries to return artworks taken without consent during the colonial period to be returned to Africa as these are an invaluable cultural heritage. France and the Britain have signalled their readiness to return some of the looted artworks under some conditions such lending the articles to African museums for exhibitions.

“I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France,” the French president said last year in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. “There are historical explanations for this but there is no valid, lasting and unconditional justification. African heritage cannot be only in private collections and European museums – it must be showcased in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou. This will be one of my priorities.”

A 2-man panel set up by the French government to look into the issue of restitution of cultural works presented its report in November. The researchers – Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French historian Bénédicte Savoy – called for thousands of African artworks in French museums to be returned to the continent.  

Femi Awoniyi

Restitution Now! Demo für eine Rückgabe der Benin-Bronzen
Saturday, 8 December/ 10 am – 1 pm
Bode-Museum, Am Kupfergraben 1, 10178 Berlin, Germany
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