Restitution – African Heritage

Back in 2017, Emmanuel Macron called for a change in policy that could see the return of thousands of African artworks and treasures. There has been growing demand in Africa for their return, but as most European laws in Museum Policy forbids the ceding of objects, and of mass deaccession, this has proven quite a challenge. 

Back in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron proposed the restitution of objects of African cultural heritage that were either stolen or looted or taken during submission and war. 

Bénédicte Savoy (art historian) and Felwine Sarr (Senegalese writer) were asked by Macron to present a report on the matter, completed in November this year. They recommended that laws forbidding the restitution of objects should be amended and that this change should be applied particularly to works which were “transferred from their original territory during the French colonial period.” The only objects that could be excluded from restitution were ones that could be proven to have a legitimate acquisition history.

Macron must decide whether to implement their changes, and I wonder if he will, especially in the face of strong opposition expected from his Culture Ministry and the museums themselves. 

In an interview with French daily Libération, Felwine Sarr told them,

We propose changing heritage laws so that all types of cases can be taken into account, and the criteria of consent can be invoked.

Advocates of restitution welcomed the report regarding objects that were bought and/or bartered under subordination, or stolen.  

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