In recent years, debates and mandates surrounding the return of Benin bronzes to their country of origin have gripped European governments in possession of some of the items. Now, according to new reports, Germany has entered into conversations about restitution of its Benin bronzes to Nigeria. Germany is saying that it will indeed return its holdings to the museum being built in what was formerly a palace site in Benin city; the museum is being designed by the star architect David Adjaye. Andreas Görgen, the the head of the German foreign ministry’s culture department, reportedly met with Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki last week to discuss the bronzes.
A planned presentation of the Benin bronzes at Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, which would take place before the return is completed, has also been suggested. The speed with which this decision was apparently approved within Germany, and the country’s seeming willingness to complete the repatriation process as soon as possible, sheds somewhat of a harsh light on other processes surrounding the Benin bronzes. In France, endless bureaucratic dustups, diplomatic miscommunication and a dearth of funding have all delayed the Quai Branly museum’s purported plans to return its Benin bronzes. Clearly, there’s another, better way.
“As far as we know today, the Benin bronzes were largely acquired illegally,” Hartmut Dorgerloh, the director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, told Artnet News. Dorgerloh added that a final decision on Germany’s restitution agreements will be made by the Foundation Council of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. “What consequences these decisions will ultimately have for the planned presentation of Benin bronzes at the Humboldt Forum is currently being discussed and will decided in consultation with the partners in Nigeria,” Dorgerloh added. “One thing is certain, the exhibition will address the injustices.”