Germany Repatriated Benin Bronzes, Plundered From Africa In The 19th Century
German officials say they have reached an agreement with Nigeria to return a share of plundered artifacts known as Benin Bronzes.
Thousands of plaques and sculptures were looted from the ancient Kingdom of Benin — now southern Nigeria, not the modern nation of Benin — by British soldiers in an 1897 raid, and were ultimately acquired by museums largely in Europe and the United States.
For the last decade, a consortium known as the Benin Dialogue Group has been working to repatriate these works and establish a permanent display in Benin City, in partnership with museums in Germany and other European nations. German officials announced on Thursday that they will work with Nigeria on plans to return some of its Benin Bronzes in the year ahead.
"The participants are in agreement that addressing Germany's colonial past is an important issue for the whole of society and a core task for cultural policy," they wrote in a joint release.
Numerous German museums are in possession of Benin Bronzes, the officials said. They invited the ones who are not part of the Benin Dialogue Group to join in their efforts.
There are far more of these historical objects scattered across the globe than in their native country, according to author Dan Hicks. He told Art News that 45 institutions in the United Kingdom and 38 in the U.S. hold Benin Bronzes, compared to just nine in Nigeria.
Berlin's Ethnological Museum is home to one of the world's largest collections of artifacts from the ancient kingdom, as The Associated Press reports. Its inventory is estimated to include some 530 items, including 440 bronzes. And roughly 900 such artifacts are housed in the British Museum alone.
"Our panel concluded that this was acquired as loot and therefore, we didn't feel we had a moral title," said Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections at the University of Aberdeen.