Berlin Museums Promise to Return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria by 2022

Benin bronzes at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Daniel Bockwoldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is an overarching authority that oversees many of Berlin’s museums, officially announced that they would be moving forward with returning the Nigerian Benin Bronzes that are currently housed in the city. Specifically, what this means is that the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s board gave its president, Hermann Parzinger, the green light to begin to negotiate where and how the aforementioned artifacts will be returned. Back in March, reports first emerged that Germany had entered into accelerated conversations about returning its Benin bronzes to Nigeria; this development is an illustration of just how accelerated those talks indeed were.

“The aim should be substantial returns in 2022 already,” the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s board said in a statement. After the British army looted the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, robbing the kingdom’s palace of untold numbers of artifacts, the payload was subsequently scattered to museums all across the globe; the British Museum wound up with a significant amount of items, while other institutions, like the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, came to house a reported 530 items in total and 440 bronzes.

“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 back in March. At the time, a planned presentation of the Benin bronzes at Berlin’s Humboldt Forum was being carefully weighed. “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. One thing is certain, the exhibition will address the injustices.”

While it’s unclear whether the exhibition will still go forward, what’s certain is that a consensus in Germany on the returns has generally been reached. In other countries, like France, such definitive plans have yet to be made. Berlin Museums Promise to Return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria by 2022