Agreement on Benin bronzes: Berlin returns looted art to Nigeria

Agreement on Benin Bronzes
Berlin returns looted art to Nigeria

Museums in Germany house extensive collections of Benin bronzes. They mostly come from looting during the colonial era. Now Germany and Nigeria agree on the return of the art objects. The first should be handed over this week.

Germany and Nigeria have reached an agreement on how to deal with the Benin bronzes in German museums, which are considered colonial loot. According to information from the German Press Agency, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth will sign a declaration of intent with their Nigerian counterparts in Berlin on Friday, paving the way for the transfer of ownership of the valuable art objects.

The signing is planned at the Federal Foreign Office. Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zubairo Dada are said to represent the Nigerian side. Two bronzes are to be handed over immediately afterwards. According to dpa information, the pieces come from Berlin stocks. Around 1,100 of the ornate bronzes from the palace of what was then the Kingdom of Benin, which today belongs to Nigeria, can be found in around 20 German museums. Most of the objects come from the British looting of 1897.

Museums and politicians in Germany had avoided talks about concrete agreements for transfers or even returns for many decades. Last year, representatives of the federal government, Nigeria and museums then announced the retransfer of ownership rights.

The Linden Museum in Stuttgart, the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg, the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne, the Ethnological Museum in Dresden/Leipzig and the Ethnological Museum in Berlin all have the most extensive collections. So far, these five houses are involved in the planned transfer of ownership. Museums cannot simply give away objects from their holdings. That is why they have already received the green light from individual carriers in the past.

This week, the Board of Trustees of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is supported by the federal and state governments, cleared the way for repatriation later this year. Objects should be given to Nigeria “as quickly as possible”. So far, we have discussed with the partners in Nigeria which and how many objects should not only be transferred, but also returned and what can remain in Germany – then as a loan. A specific choice has not yet been made. The objects that are not intended as a loan are to be brought to Nigeria as soon as possible in coordination with the Nigerian side.

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