Return of benin bronzes: germany sees itself as a pioneer
With the announced return of art treasures from the benin bronzes, which are considered looted property, to nigeria, the federal government believes that germany is playing a pioneering role internationally.
In view of the restitutions planned for next year, germany could be the first country to actually return bronzes, state minister for culture monika grutters told the broadcaster RBB kultur.
"We face up to germany’s historical and moral responsibility to bring colonial past to light and to come to terms with it," the CDU politician said on thursday evening after the informal meeting she had convened. "The handling of the benin bronzes is a showcase for this."
In addition to rough transparency, according to grutters, "above all, substantial restitutions are being sought.". Until 15. A list of all benin bronzes in the possession of museums is to be published in june.
Bronzes from the royal palace of the former kingdom of benin can be found in numerous german museums. According to current plans, such valuable art treasures will also be exhibited at the humboldt forum in berlin. The ethnological museum has about 530 historical objects from the kingdom of benin, including about 440 bronzes. The objects are largely from the british looting of 1897.
Berlin’s culture senator klaus lederer sets conditions for further exhibitions in germany. "I can only imagine a presentation of benin bronzes in the humboldt forum, for example, if the comprehensive legal restitution of the bronzes has taken place first," said the left-wing politician in berlin on friday. "We had to be extraordinarily grateful for loans that made it possible to experience these masterpieces in berlin."
German museums to return first benin bronzes to nigeria next year. A panel of museum experts and political leaders responded to this in an online statement. Concrete steps and a roadmap for the question of the "return of benin bronzes" are to be developed by this summer.
"This is a historic step," the president of the foundation preubischer kulturbesitz, hermann parzinger, told the deutsche presse-agentur. "We hope that we will be able to start with restitutions as early as 2022"."According to parzinger, "discussions about substantial returns and future cooperations" are planned with the nigerian partners. The aim is also to clarify "under which conditions benin bronzes can continue to be shown in german museums".
A next step is scheduled for 29. June the meeting of the foundation’s council in berlin, in which the federal government and the federal states sit. "We will certainly not decide on individual objects then, that has to be discussed with nigeria". But I assume there will be a landmark decision," said parzinger.
Prior to the meeting, baden-wurttemberg’s art minister theresia bauer (grune) had put on additional pressure with a timed timetable. "We were able to come to a good understanding," bauer told dpa after the round table. "There is the necessary dynamism in the matter. We have agreed on a course of action with which we have set the next milestones."
The director of the hamburger museum am rothenbaum, barbara plankensteiner, is counting on swift action. "Now it is important to intensify the language with nigeria," she said. Plankensteiner, together with parzinger, is to coordinate the approach of the 20 german museums that have benin bronzes in their collections. She is also the spokesperson for the benin dialogue group, in which museums from germany, great britain, the netherlands, austria and sweden have been working with nigerian partners since 2010.
The director of the linden museum in stuttgart, ines de castro, sees rough chances for an open dialogue. "This is a very good opportunity to open up and sensitize society to issues like dealing with the colonial past," the ethnologist told dpa. "We must bring the debate into society and make it clear that the colonial era has produced continuities such as racism, some of which still exist today."The linden museum has a total of 64 benin bronzes in its collection.
Historian and african studies expert jurgen zimmerer criticized the agreement. "As gratifying as the courageous commitment to substantial restitution is, the overall outcome of the benin summit is disappointing," said the professor at the university of hamburg. Instead of an "unconditional obligation to return looted art," there is only vague talk of a "substantial part" of it.
"The parties involved are striving to jointly achieve feasible results in the short term," states the joint declaration. This is to be accompanied by talks with the nigerian side. In this context, it will also be discussed with the nigerian partners "whether and how benin bronzes, as part of the cultural heritage of mankind, can also be displayed in germany in the future.
In addition to discussions on the construction of a museum planned in benin-city and on the reunions, the cooperation between german and nigerian museums and institutions is to be further promoted. This includes, for example, the training of future curators, museum managers and the development of cultural infrastructures. The foreign office’s agency for international museum cooperation is expected to play an important role in the process.