Germany to return colonial-era bronze loot to Nigeria

Berlin, Germany: Germany intends to return ancient pillaged artworks known as the Benin bronzes to Nigeria next year, according to Culture Minister Monika Gruetters.

In recent years, most former European colonial powers have begun to consider returning looted artifacts to former colonies, especially in Africa.

"We want to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen during colonization," Gruetters said in a statement.

"We expect the first returns to take place in the year 2022," she added.

Metal plaques and sculptures from the 16th to 18th centuries that adorned the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin are among the most highly regarded works of African art.

After being looted by the British at the end of the nineteenth century, they are now dispersed around European museums.

The Ethnological Museum in Berlin houses 530 historical items from the ancient empire, including 440 bronzes – the largest collection outside of London's British Museum.

180 of the bronzes will be shown this year in Berlin's Humboldt Forum, a modern museum complex that opened in December.

Yusuf Tuggar, Nigeria's ambassador to Germany, had demanded that the bronzes be returned.

Germany's Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, said on Wednesday that Berlin was "working with those involved in Nigeria and in Germany" on the future of the artifacts, which he described as a "question of justice."

"An honest approach to colonial history also includes the question of restitution of cultural assets," he said.

The University of Aberdeen in Scotland decided last month to return a Benin bronze sculpture to Nigeria, claiming it was acquired by British soldiers in "reprehensible circumstances" in 1897.

This decision put additional pressure on other institutions, including the British Museum, to follow suit.

According to reports, the British Museum is considering lending its bronzes to Nigeria.

Nigeria intends to establish a museum in Benin City to house stolen artifacts after they have been recovered, a 3.4 million euro project in which the British Museum will participate.

France authorized the restitution of 26 objects looted from the Kingdom of Benin in 19892 late last year.

COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF ARTNEWS

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