[ on the return of Africa’s looted art pieces]
“In principle, this seems an honest restitution.
And then what? Is he sure these countries are demanding their return?
Why did it come from a French president not an African or Asian one?
On a visit to London a few years ago, I took the Catholic archbishop of Sokoto in Nigeria, Matthew Kukah, to the Africa galleries of the British Museum.”
“As we looked at the Benin bronzes and the ivory masques I asked him if they should be returned to Nigeria.
He said: “I think it would be best if they remained here.”
His argument was that if you sent them back to a museum in Nigeria some people would demand they were returned to the shrines where they once were, or they would be stolen.
Besides, he said, few people in Nigeria will be interested.”
“The last point has been borne out in my visits to museums in Africa over the past 40 years.
Outside Egypt, Kenya and South Africa, few tourists and school groups go to museums.
They are gloomy places, built hurriedly by the departing imperial powers in the 1960s as part of an independence package.
Today, governments barely support them.
………….I get a sense that many Africans of his generation are ashamed of their past.
The obvious solution is for the objects to be replicated or rotated throughout the world’s museums.”
1) Can we say with certainty that there was no prior request from an African or Asian leader?
An accurate record will show that there have been numerous requests for the return of looted pieces from African leaders going back for at least 50 years.
2) It is inaccurate that “outside of Egypt, Kenya and South Africa few tourists and school groups go to museums”.
Where is the evidence? Besides is a museum the only venue for seeing and appreciating classic traditional African art? Does the museum not take the art out of context?
It is impossible not to notice the large crowds outside the museums of Marrakech on a daily basis…..the Palais Bahia, the Saadian tombs, the YSL museum etc.
Museums and other unlooted sites in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, Ghana and Zanzibar are also patronized.
Need we include IFAN in Dakar and of course Goree Island?
3) What gives anyone the sense “that many Africans of a particular generation are ashamed of their past”?
What exactly is being referred to…..their teenage years?
If he could be more specific then we shall be able to evaluate his impression more fully.
Certainly, the infrastructure for art including museums and galleries in many parts of Africa remain grossly unsatisfactory.
But surely, that is an entirely separate matter from readily acknowledging the violent theft of other people’s property – and after profiting from it for decades! – making arrangements for restitution…..what “seems an honest restitution”….really? Hubris alert.
Let us not get it twisted.
The accusation of “turning the past into a morality play” and “judging history through the simplistic prism of right and wrong” or “presentism” ought to be firmly rejected.
Cultural relativism is intellectually and morally bankrupt.
Some things are right or wrong, irrespective of the time and place at which they occur.
Justice must be the guide of all our actions, for “If justice perishes, then it is no longer worthwhile for men to live upon the earth.” – Kant, AK:VI:332.