While the museum presents its attempt to identify trafficked antiquities as an altruistic enterprise, its policing of the antiquities market also distracts from its historic role in acquiring looted objects.
The RISD Museum has held this Benin bronze head in its collection for 80 years. “No one would have given it up unless under duress,” the curators say. But tracing its provenance and repatriating it is no simple matter.
Belgium’s occupation of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most brutal chapters of colonial history. Now, the African country is asking for its artifacts and artworks back from Europe.
Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French art historian Bénédicte Savoy were charged by the French president to develop a clear framework for the potential restitution of African art to several African nations.
“For us [the statue] is a brother; but for them it is a souvenir or an attraction,” said a member of the Easter Island development commission, Anakena Manutomatoma.
In the Italian city of Pesaro last month, a court ruled that the Getty Museum’s prized “Victorious Youth” statue should be returned to Italy, and in response, the J. Paul Getty Trust issued a public reply, noting that Italy has no cultural claim on the statue.
Exhibitions at British cultural institutions have lately underscored the artistic output of Ethiopian scribes, and in the process, have also renewed questions around whether museums that have benefitted from acts of imperialism and colonialism should now return looted objects.
A terror plot targeting the British Museum was recently thwarted, but the reasons why it became a target in the first place go far beyond the current political climate.
Rodney Kelly is campaigning the museum to repatriate the Gweagal shield, which belonged to his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
In one of the latest examples of American museums repatriating human remains, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe was given control of the 10,600-year-old Spirit Cave mummy.
An Acoma shield that was removed from a May auction in Paris that included human remains and indigenous sacred objects has yet to be returned.
To better protect sacred indigenous objects from being sold in international markets, Senator Martin Heinrich has introduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act with support from politicians of both parties as well as tribal leaders.