Germany is planning to send hundreds of bronze busts from the former Kingdom of Benin, which was situated in what is now southwest Nigeria, back to its original location. The statues are currently on display at the Berlin Ethnological Museum along with a wide variety of other artifacts.
Benin statues on display in the Humboldt Forum
Located in the East Wing of the Humboldt Forum, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin holds an eclectic collection of artifacts and art from places as diverse and far-ranging as the Sepik River in New Guinea, the Pacific Coast of North America, Hawaii, Mesoamerica, and Africa. NewsReport
Artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, an old kingdom within what is now Nigeria and one of the African cultures represented in the museum, are currently on display across two rooms in the Forum. Benin artwork is often characterized by distinctive bronze statues, thousands of which can be found in museums around Europe, after being looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.
Around 530 artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin are currently being held in the museum in Berlin, including around 440 bronzes. Two thrones and a bust of a Benin monarch, which once adorned the royal palace in Benin City, are also included in the collection. This collection is considered to be the second largest in the world, only behind the British Museum in London.
Germany to return Benin artifacts to Nigeria
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which owned the museum’s collection, has transferred the property rights for the collection to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Most of the artifacts will soon be returned to Nigeria, where the construction of a museum in Benin City to house the pieces is being planned. Around a third of the artifacts will remain in Germany for a loan period of 10 years; 40 of them will remain on display, while the rest will be studied by researchers.
Germany has faced criticism in recent years over the origin of its museum collections, a lot of which include artifacts stolen during the colonial era. This was amplified after the initial opening of the new Humboldt Forum, which is in the Berlin Palace. The palace itself was the former residence of the House of Hohenzollern, which ruled Germany during the colonial era.
Taking responsibility for colonialism
The return of Benin artifacts is just one in a series of attempts made by Germany recently to make up for its colonial past. In May last year, Germany recognized the genocide it committed in Namibia, and pledged more than 1 billion euros to support infrastructure projects in the southern African country. 23 artifacts were also recently repatriated to Namibia. “When it comes to colonial injustice, I think we’re on the right path,” said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, according to DW.
Other countries have also committed to returning stolen artifacts, with France returning 26 Benin artifacts to Nigeria at the end of last year. Pressure is growing on museums around Europe to follow suit, particularly the British Museum, which houses around 700 Benin bronzes, and a vast collection of artifacts from countries all over the world.
In July, we signed the joint declaration to return the magnificent #beninbronzes to ?? Nigeria, where they belong. Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing them displayed at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin- as loans from Nigeria ??. pic.twitter.com/skmV2R2eTg
— Christoph Retzlaff (@GERonAfrica) September 19, 2022