Returning Looted Art

returning looted art

Some stories have a long journey before they end up in print. In the last year or two we have read about  several countries and museums returning art to their native countries, art that was obtained under less than legitimate circumstances.  Back in graduate school  many years ago I remember reading about colonial administrators, adventurers, greedy collectors  and others just taking what art they encountered and liked. They had no respect for the people who created this art, and colonial archives will show this, and yet they appropriated what art they came across  and wanted. Last year the  Ethnological Museum  in Berlin returned all the Benin bronzes it had to Nigeria where they belonged. As Germany continues to  engage in reconciliation with its colonial past, the same will be done with its entire collection of Namibian art. The restitution is only a part  of the reconciliation  that is underway. In this case it includes also the sum of 1.3 billion Euros to be paid over the next 30 years. The art to be returned is made up of 23 treasures which were  taken between 1884 and 1915. The Museum stated that “ the collection reflects colonial, and in some cases extremely violent processes of appropriation.” It added that they also show the creativity and ingenuity of the Namibian people. Other museums are also involved in restitution of art appropriated during the colonial era. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is  also returning a large collection of Benin bronzes and the Brooklyn Museum has decided to return a very large collection of 1305 pieces to Costa Rica.  There is also 17,000 pieces being returned to Iraq by the US government. It took decades of work from many artists and activists to return this art.  And it may right a wrong but it nevertheless reminds us of the harm colonialism did.

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