Museums Are Filled With Stolen African Art. Is It Time To Return It?
Plaques that form part of the Benin Bronzes are displayed at The British Museum in London. The Bronzes were stolen from the African country of Benin by British troops in 1897.
This summer, protesters across the world tore down statues of colonizers and confederates. And they turned their gaze to museums, too. In Foreign Policy, journalist Nosmot Gbadamosi wrote about an unsuccessful attempt to remove a 19th-century South Sudanese funeral pole from a Paris museum last June. The demonstrators said the item was looted during colonization—and needed to be returned.
The violent theft of thousands of works of African art by mostly-Western powers is well-documented—but the pieces remain in the collections of Western museums. Is it time to return Africa’s looted art? And how should that process play out?
To talk about these questions and more, we spoke with Dan Hicks, professor of Contemporary Archaeology and curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford; Chika Okeke-Agulu, professor of African and Africa Diaspora Art, Princeton University; and Deborah Mack, interim director, National Museum of African Art.