A portion of stolen artifacts is set to be returned to Nigeria starting next year after an agreement was reached with Germany. The Benin Bronzes, as the artifacts are known, were stolen by British soldiers in 1897 and ended up in museums across Europe and the United States after being auctioned off. Now, they’re set to make their return to southern Nigeria where the ancient Benin Kingdom –– not the modern country of Benin –– once flourished.
German officials announced Thursday (April 29) the country will work with Nigeria on a plan to bring the artwork and sculptures back to Nigeria. The effort to bring the Benin Bronzes back has been a decade in the making as the Benin Dialogue Group has been advocating for the return of the artwork and for the creation of a permanent display in Benin City.
“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,” officials said in a joint press release.
According to Face 2 Face Africa, the Ethnological Museum in Berlin is in possession of an estimated 530 artifacts identified as Benin Bronzes, while the British Museum holds approximately 900 artifacts. In the US, 38 art and cultural institutions house the stolen artifacts, while only nine museums in Nigeria house the artifacts.
German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said in her nation’s announcement that they want to “contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen,” the outlet reported.
Promises to repatriate stolen artifacts have been made before without follow through. In 2018, the French government vowed to return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria by 2021, but according to Art News, none of the artifacts have permanently left the country yet.
The British Museum says it is “committed to facilitating a permanent display of Benin material,” but specific plans for the display have not been announced.
The Benin Dialogue Group is scheduled to meet again on May 27.
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