Baerbock and Roth hand Benin bronzes to Nigeria | free press

Baerbock and Roth hand Benin bronzes to Nigeria |  free press

An internationally acclaimed return marks a new chapter in the coming to terms with German colonialism. Two women ministers present valuable Benin bronzes in Nigeria. It’s just meant to be a start.


In what is described as a “turning point in international cultural policy”, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth returned 20 valuable Benin bronzes to the African country in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Tuesday.

For a long time, the works of art stolen in colonial times belonged to the collections of museums in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Stuttgart and Dresden/Leipzig. The leaders of several museums accompanied the Green politicians at the ceremony in Nigeria.

The return shows the “willingness to critically evaluate one’s own actions” with an “sympathetic ear to the concerns of those who were victims of colonial atrocities,” said Baerbock during the ceremony. This is particularly important for the people of Nigeria, “because it’s not just a piece of art, not just a cultural heritage, but also a piece of identity.”

A first step

Nigeria’s request for return has long been ignored. This is now a first step. “There are many, many bronzes that have been stolen. That’s why many bronzes will come back,” said Baerbock.

More than 1,100 of the works from the palace of the former Kingdom of Benin, which today belongs to Nigeria, have so far been found in around 20 German museums. The objects, which are made of ivory and other materials in addition to bronze, come largely from British looting in 1897.

“It was wrong to take her and it was wrong to keep her,” Baerbock said. “This is a story of European colonialism. It is a story in which our country played a dark role and caused great suffering in different parts of Africa.”

The minister acknowledged the role of the museum sponsors. “They facilitated the transfer of ownership of the bronzes and secured the groundbreaking contracts with Nigeria.” The five museums and their sponsors had already transferred ownership of all the Benin bronzes before they were returned. Loan agreements were also concluded so that some of the art treasures can continue to be shown in Germany.

An art pavilion for the bronzes

“For us, what was special about this process was the trust of our Nigerian partners, who share our values ​​and our belief in respect and open dialogue,” said Baerbock. Art should be accessible, which is why Germany is participating in the construction of an art pavilion in the state of Edo, where the bronzes are to be exhibited. “The bottom line is, you know they’re yours. And you know where they are.”

Roth spoke of a “historic moment that not only connects our two countries, but also our continents”. The encounter is based on respect, interest and the desire to learn from each other. “We want to learn from dealing with our colonial history and we want to take responsibility,” said Roth. “Only in this way does our colonial past become part of our culture of remembrance and remembering past injustice becomes an obligation for a more just present.”

This first concrete step should not “disguise the shame that Nigeria’s request for a return has been ignored or rejected for decades.” For too long, Germany has closed its eyes “to the injustice associated with these bronzes, which have been shown in our museums or stored in depots for so long”.

“Turning point in international cultural policy”

Roth spoke of a “turning point in international cultural policy” and a prelude to further returns. “What begins today is not the end, it is a beginning. The beginning of future cooperation and a stronger cultural exchange.”

Nigeria’s Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed thanked for the returns. “Twenty or even 10 years ago, no one could have foreseen the return of these bronzes to Nigeria because the obstacles to repatriation seemed insurmountable.” Germany did not stick to the announcements of a return, the negotiations were not easy. “Nigeria, Africa and indeed all people will always remember and cherish this moment in human history when Germany stood by our side.”

Mohammed hopes that the exhibition pavilion in Benin City will become a focal point of the cultural scene. He appealed to all institutions worldwide, museums such as the British Museum and collectors, to return his country’s cultural assets. “You have to understand that many of these cultural objects are not just works of art for us, but represent the very core of our being.” The pieces are about the culture and heritage of Nigeria. “They belong here and nowhere else.”

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama welcomed the repatriation as a sign of the good relationship between the two countries. Nigeria claims the objects and wants to see them where they belong. Nevertheless, Nigeria sees the Benin bronzes in a broader context of all people. “They are a common property of humanity.” (dpa)


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